The Christian Science Monitor

National testing: What does it mean for a student to be 'proficient'?

Students study reading comprehension in fourth grade at Muñoz Elementary School on Jan. 18, 2018, in Donna, Texas. The main NAEP test, given every two years to 4th and 8th graders in reading and math, currently has three scoring levels: basic, proficient, and advanced. Some critics want to see those changed to low, intermediate, high, and advanced to more accurately reflect student capabilities. Source: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

The word “proficient” is often used to mean suitable, apt, or at best, competent. An amateur cook, student driver, or French 101 student, for example, might describe his or her skills as proficient.

But the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – the only national assessment in the United States since 1990, used as a barometer of student achievement – defines proficiency as “demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter,” which experts interpret as high achievement.

This mismatch in definitions causes a lot of confusion when it comes to analyzing scores from “The Nation’s Report Card”

Understanding what 'proficient' meansAlternatives to current names

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