State Policies on Standards-Based Education Over the Past Decade Found to Have a Positive Relationship With Gains in Student Achievement

State Policies on Standards-Based Education Over the Past Decade Found to Have a Positive Relationship With Gains in Student Achievement

A decade of state efforts to carry out standards-based education shows a positive relationship with gains in student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to Quality Counts 2006.

For the first time ever, the 10th edition of the report, released today by Education Week, examines the progress that states have made on a core set of policy indicators related to standards-based reform. The report was first released in 1997.

An original analysis conducted for Quality Counts at 10: A Decade of Standards-Based Education by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center finds that state efforts to devise standards, tests, and accountability systems in education are positively related with gains on NAEP reading and math tests in grades 4 and 8 from 1996 to 2005. But the report found a negative relationship between state implementation of policies related to teacher quality and gains in math and reading scores.

“After a decade of tracking state policy efforts in education, our results are at once heartening and sobering,” said Virginia B. Edwards, the editor of Quality Counts 2006 and Education Week. “They're heartening because when looked at over more than a decade, student achievement has gotten better, particularly in mathematics and particularly for low-income and minority students.

“An increasing number of states also have embraced a standards-based-education framework, with some of the earliest and most ardent adopters of standards-based accountability systems making some of the most progress in student achievement,” she added. “But improvements still have not come far or fast enough.”

The comprehensive report on public education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was produced with the support of the Pew Center on the States.

“The ability to track and compare the progress of state reform efforts is critical to identifying approaches that have a positive impact for students,” said Sue Urahn, the director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' state policy program. “This report offers states and the nation a useful benchmark in efforts to provide students with the best education possible.”


For the 10th edition of Quality Counts, the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., conducted a series of special analyses of NAEP scores between 1992 and 2005. The analyses highlight how each state's improvement over the past decade compares with the performance of the nation as a whole. The report also takes a much closer look than previous studies at which states have made significant progress in closing achievement gaps between black and white, Hispanic and white, and poor and nonpoor students.

The results in mathematics are particularly encouraging. Nationally, NAEP scores in 4th grade math have increased by 18.5 points on a 500-point scale, or nearly two grade levels, since 1992, near the start of the standards movement. Grade 8 math performance improved by 10.7 points.

Seven states had gains in mathematics that significantly outpaced those for the nation as a whole in both grades 4 and 8: Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

North Carolina posted the largest gains: 28.4 points at grade 4 and 23.4 points at grade 8. Other states saw significantly less growth than the nation as a whole at both grade levels: Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah.

In contrast, the national average in reading barely budged from 1992 to 2005, inching up just 2 points in grades 4 and 8. But, even here, somewhat better news lies beneath the surface. The scores for black, Hispanic, and low-income youngsters in 4th grade reading increased at nearly triple the national average, or about two-thirds of a grade level.

Delaware was the only state whose reading gains significantly outpaced the national average in both grade 4 between 1992 and 2005 and in grade 8 between 1998 and 2005. But Florida, Maryland, and New York experienced reading gains significantly above the national average in grade 4, and Massachusetts and Wyoming did so in grade 8.


The mathematics gains for black and Hispanic 4th graders over the past decade—27.7 points and 24.2 points, respectively—are particularly heartening. One way to think about those gains is that if the scores for white students had not also improved, the advances would have been enough to shrink the black-white achievement gap that existed in 1992 by 80 percent, and the Hispanic-white gap by 94 percent, virtually closing the gap between those two groups in 4th grade math.

Nationally, the achievement gap narrowed significantly between black and white students in math in both grades 4 and 8, and between Hispanic and white students in grade 4. The largest gap-closing on NAEP, nearly 9 points, was found between black and white students in 4th grade math. There was no significant gap-closing in reading nationally.

Progress in closing achievement gaps at the state level was mixed, although the picture is complicated by the fact that many states either did not take part in the state-level NAEP during the periods examined or did not have enough minority students in the NAEP samples to permit valid comparisons of change over time.

The following states experienced significant gap-closing in at least one area (black-white, Hispanic-white, or poor-nonpoor students) without a significant decline in average scores for the higher-performing group:

  • Grade 4 reading: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Texas Grade 8 reading: Delaware and Utah 
  • Grade 4 math: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. 
  • Grade 8 math: California, New York, and Texas.

The 2006 report highlights individual states—including Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Texas—whose progress stands out over the past decade, with in-depth profiles that explore what might explain such changes.


For Quality Counts 2006, the EPE Research Center tracked state policy initiatives over the past decade in four core areas—standards, assessments, accountability, and efforts to improve teacher quality—based on 24 specific indicators.

To examine the relationship between standards-based education and gains on NAEP, the research center conducted a series of analyses using regression models. The predictor was changes in the strength of states' standards-based policies between 1997 and 2005. The outcome was changes in NAEP achievement between 1996 and 2005 for math, and between 1998 and 2005 for reading. The center conducted separate analyses for math and reading in grades 4 and 8.

Initial analyses found a moderate positive relationship between states' overall embrace of standards-based education and gains in student math achievement. But the researchers observed a slight negative relationship for reading. Further analyses—exploring the relative contribution of standards, assessments, accountability, and efforts to improve teacher quality—revealed that the implementation of policies to support teacher quality related negatively to achievement gains in both reading and math.

In a second analysis, the researchers eliminated the teacher-quality policies from the overall measure of standards-based-reform implementation in order to focus specifically on the contribution of policies related to standards, assessments, and accountability. Once teacher quality was taken out of the picture, the relationship between states' efforts to implement standards-based reforms and gains in student achievement became much stronger. Improvement for math in grades 4 and 8 became statistically significant, while positive but more modest effects emerged for reading.

Preliminary analyses also found no relationship between state resource and equity indicators and student- achievement gains, after states' initial NAEP performance was taken into account.


As is true every year, the 2006 report also tracks student achievement across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and charts progress on states' education systems in four areas: standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and school resources and the equity of school finance systems. States averaged a C-plus across the graded categories, the same as last year.

As part of the 10-year retrospective on standards-based education, Education Week also invited five prominent policy observers to contribute their personal views to Quality Counts on what standards-based policies have accomplished so far, and what the next phase of improvement steps should be.

For the first time, the NAEP Research Center also has produced detailed state-by-state reports on how states have performed on this year's indicators and the progress they've made over time. The state highlights reports, which replace and expand on the state summaries that appeared in previous print editions of Education Week, American education's newspaper of record, is owned and operated by Editorial Projects in Education, a nonprofit corporation based in Bethesda, Md.

Read State Policies on Standards-Based Education Over the Past Decade Found to Have a Positive Relationship With Gains in Student Achievement on the Education Week Website.