Even if your child aced the state science exam, he or she might not be the next Einstein: That's because the standards on state science exams vary wildly, according to a new report by Change the Equation, a coalition of business leaders dedicated to improving STEM education.
The benchmark for achieving a "proficient" score on eighth grade science assessments in 16 states is below the "basic" level on the countrywide benchmarks set in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), according to the report. Two states, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, set even more stringent standards than the NAEP.
"The concern we have is that if you're not setting proficiency at an appropriate level, then you're misleading," says Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation. "Even if you're misleading parents inadvertently, if they see their child is proficient, they won't be motivated to take action to fix [their child's science achievement]."
States that set low standards for exams see a wide discrepancy in the number of students who pass their exams and who are rated as "college ready" by ACT exam standards.
In Michigan, 78 percent of eighth graders passed the state science exam in 2009, but only 26 percent of its high school graduates were deemed "college ready" in science. Students in Minnesota might have a more realistic outlook about their science performance—the state sets its bar to be very close to the NAEP "proficient" benchmark. Just 43 percent of its eighth graders passed the state exam in 2009, the same percentage of its high school graduates who met ACT "college ready" science standards.
Rosen says it's important to make sure students in all states are judged similarly.
"What states are currently defining as acceptable performance is wildly variable," she says. "That can't be. Eighth graders in New Hampshire don't need to know something different than eighth graders in New Mexico."
Here are the states with the strictest and least strict standards: