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Low Proficiency Expectations Are Hurting North Dakota Students

• Patricia Levesque

2015-10-13 ND Proficiency Matters


For years, students in North Dakota public schools have been passing their state assessments under the assumption that earning high scores meant they were on track in core subjects like reading and math.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t necessarily been the case.

North Dakota’s “proficiency gap” problem

Each state sets its own academic requirements for reading and math, and its own passing scores on state tests to determine if students truly are proficient in the subjects. In some states, test scores accurately reflect proficiency. In others, like North Dakota, they do not because passing scores are set too low.

Looking at results from 2013, North Dakota’s state-administered tests indicated that the majority of students were on track academically in math and reading. For example, 74 percent of eighth-grade students scored proficient on their reading test. But test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – a more accurate measure of proficiency – revealed that only 34 percent of North Dakota eighth graders were proficient readers in 2013.

This “proficiency gap” of 39 percentage points indicates North Dakota is setting the bar far too low, giving parents and teachers an inflated, unrealistic view of students’ academic achievement.

Why proficiency matters

North Dakota and many other states have consistently overestimated their students’ mastery of knowledge and skills. And this results in many students graduating from high school unprepared for the challenges of college, careers and the military. For example:

  • 16 percent of the North Dakota high school graduates that take the United States Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) are found ineligible.
  • According to 2014 ACT results, just 62 percent of North Dakota graduates were prepared to do college-level English and just 41 percent were ready to do college-level math.

From college remediation costs, to lost income, higher unemployment rates and even fewer qualified candidates to serve in the U.S. military – students, families, communities, states and our nation face the consequences of a poor education.

How North Dakota can prioritize students

North Dakota’s education leaders can save their students from this future by choosing higher proficiency expectations on the North Dakota State Assessment.

We encourage them to join Superintendent Kirsten Baesler in her effort to set new, higher proficiency standards that are honest with parents and help prepare every student for a college, career and success in the 21st century global economy.

Expecting more of students will always be harder than expecting less. But North Dakota’s students can and will rise to this important challenge.

Visit for more facts, graphics and sharable content. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ProficiencyMatters.

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at