Many states declare students to have grade-level mastery of reading and math when they do not, the Education Department reported Thursday.
The agency compared state achievement standards to the more challenging standards behind the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress.
State standards were lower, and there were big differences in where each state set the bar.
Yet in his home state of Illinois, which lowered its eighth-grade math standard, Easton said officials were trying to make it easier to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that prods schools to boost test scores to meet annual improvement goals.
Easton said a bigger concern is the wide disparity in standards among the states. A student who is proficient in one state might not be proficient in another, the report said.
The report by the department's statistics arm compared state achievement levels to achievement levels on NAEP. It found that many states deemed children to be proficient or on grade level when they would rate below basic or lacking even partial mastery of reading and math under the NAEP standards.
Among the findings:
— Thirty-one states deemed fourth-graders proficient in reading when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Mississippi's standards were lowest, and Massachusetts' were highest.
— Seventeen states deemed eighth-graders proficient at reading when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Tennessee's standards were lowest, and South Carolina's were highest.
— Ten states deemed fourth- and eighth-graders proficient at math when they would have rated below basic on NAEP. Tennessee's standards were lowest; Massachusetts had the highest fourth-grade math standards, and South Carolina had the highest eighth-grade standards.