Colorado's Untold Education Story: Leading in Performance Standards Progress

Harvard University professor Dr. Paul Peterson, along with colleague Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón, has unveiled some new research that underscores one of the top untold Colorado education stories of recent years. The issue is how high are states setting the bar to measure student learning in the basic subjects of reading and math–also known as “performance standards.”

The findings? Since 2007 states have raised the bar a bit on reading performance standards but have made no improvement with math. Essentially every state “deems more students ‘proficient’ on its own assessments than NAEP [the National Assessment of Educational Progress] does.” The researchers measured the strength of a state’s performance standards by how well the state’s proficiency ratings in various subject tests match up with the “gold standard” NAEP test.

As it did in 2007, Colorado finished with a B grade on the survey. But the untold story is the tremendous improvement our state made between 2003 and 2007 — when the performance standard grade jumped from D to B. In fact, between 2003 and 2009, no other state registered as great an improvement in performance standards than Colorado did (only Montana was even somewhat close).

The other side of the coin is that we still have a ways to go to catch up with the likes of Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, Hawaii and New Mexico. So while we celebrate how far we’ve come on our climb, Colorado can’t forget that the peak of performance standards — which hopefully improves learning outcomes along the way — still lies ahead.

For the education policy nerds out there, Peterson has posted the raw data for each state (PDF) so you can see exactly what I’m talking about.