The Honesty Gap in Review
In May of 2015, Achieve Inc. produced a report, “Proficient vs. Prepared,” which demonstrated that most states have historically misled parents on whether students were proficient in basic math and reading skills. Achieve’s analysis determined that more than half of all states demonstrated a 30-point differential between their reported proficiency rates and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), widely considered the “gold standard” in student assessments.
The Collaborative for Student Success labeled this the “Honesty Gap” and its Executive Director, Karen Nussle, explained that it “is the result of a lack of political courage from some policymakers that do not want to be truthful with parents that our students are not prepared for college or the workforce.”
Thankfully, many states had already initiated, and have continued to persevere, with higher academic standards in math and English and also instituted new, modernized tests to measure student progress.
A Year Later: Three Major Findings
Because states have now furnished new tests scores and the biennial NAEP reported results this past October, we are in a position to evaluate each state’s progress towards providing accurate, transparent information to parents. Towards that end, there are three major findings: (1) the “Honesty Gap” has significantly narrowed in nearly half of the states, (2) the number of states with small Honesty Gaps this year has tripled in comparison with last year, and (3) today there are just a handful of states that continue to grossly mislead parents about student proficiency.
First, the “Honesty Gap” has significantly narrowed in more than half of the states. In the past year, 26 states demonstrated an improvement of at least 10 percentage points by closing the “Honesty Gap” in either 4th grade reading and 8th grade math since 2013. The states have “Significantly Improved;” they are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia. These states join three others whose Honesty Gaps have held so close to NAEP (within 5 percentage points) over a two-year period that there was little room for improvement : Massachusetts, New York, and Utah. These three are the “Most Honest” states.
Second, the number of states with small “Honesty Gaps” this year has more than quadrupled in comparison with last year. Achieve’s analysis from last May identified just six states with an Honesty Gap of 15 percentage points or fewer in both 4th grade reading and 8th grade math: Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Utah and Wisconsin.
Third, there remain just four states that continue to dramatically mislead parents. Achieve’s May 2015 analysis noted that 18 states exhibited an “Honesty Gap” of 35 percentage points or higher in either 4th grade reading or 8th grade math. Today, that list features just four “Honesty Challenged” states: Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.
Analysis: What do the new numbers tell us?
State policymakers are taking the “Honesty Gap” very seriously in their states, which is why 26 states have “Significantly Improved” by narrowing their “Honesty Gap” by 10 percentage points or more.
In fact, there are many exemplary states which have started to erase the “Honesty Gap” by going from “Biggest Gaps” last May to double-digit improvements today, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, and South Carolina.
Georgia and Arkansas are two excellent case studies. In 2015 Georgia had the most pronounced “Honesty Gap” in the country, but in specifically citing Achieve’s analysis, the Peach State today is among the best in the nation at providing transparent information to parents. Additionally, Arkansas state officials set proficiency rates high – consistent with other states that administered PARCC – giving their parents the benefit of quality information.
The presence or absence of new, higher standards and more rigorous, aligned assessments appears to correlate to the “Honesty Gap”. In 2015, we have adopted a more rigorous definition of “Top Truth Teller” as those states who have an “Honesty Gap” within five percentage points (as opposed to 15 percentage points) of NAEP. It is noteworthy that ALL of the twenty-four “Top Truth Tellers” in 2015 use the Common Core State Standards or some similarly-matched standards (Arizona, Arkansas Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). Conversely three of the four “Honesty Challenged” states with persistently wide 2015 “Honesty Gaps” reject the Common Core (Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia).
Now that “Honesty Gaps” are closing, parents and students are in a much better position to evaluate whether their students are truly as prepared for the next step – the next grade level, college, career, or the military – as their state claims. With reliable, transparent information, students and parents can be confident that their students are on track to be prepared for whatever comes next.