To be literate is to be able to read and write in the everyday language. The key is defining everyday language. Two hundred years ago, reading the story "Pilgrims Progress" was considered literate and 3rd-graders were literate. In fact, 80% of the US was literate, the highest literacy rate in the world. They were able to read the Federalist Papers and Thomas Paine's "Common Sense". The US and North Dakota Constitutions are written in what was then everyday English. Article 8, section 2 of the North Dakota constitution says the government will maintain literate citizens. But our Englisah proficiency is less than 50%. Article 8, section 3 of the North Dakota constitution says educators will teach temperance. I am finding many high school and even college graduates do not know what temperance means. Today our high school graduates and even many college graduates cannot read and understand many of these works. Why?
Today educators no longer claim graduates are literate, but say they are "proficient". What does proficient mean? I have no idea and neither does anyone else in education. It is an education word that sounds good and means nothing. Tests are graded in "scaled scores" like 233 being proficient. What is 233? Is a 233 one question right or one question wrong or somewhere in between. One time a student takes the test, 233 is 70% correct. Then if not enough students "passed proficient", maybe 30% correct will become proficient and SCORES IMPROVE! DUH!
So if the writers of the test want to make teachers look bad so they can sell more remedial materials, they raise the percentage correct to be "proficient". If they want to stop the backlash from parents, they lower the percentage needed to be proficient and proficiency rates increase. But they hide what they are doing behind "scaled scores".
Let's consider a more concrete example. We know literate meant citizens could read works like Common Sense. However a few years ago, proficient may have been lowered to being able to read and write a simple sentence, like "See Jane Run." But if this is not a high enough proficiency, maybe if the student can identify and hold a pencil, that will be considered "proficient". Proficient can mean ANYTHING or nothing!
Please do NOT take my word for any of this. Ask teachers and education administrators how many correct is "proficient" on state or national tests. No one will know.
Here is a suggestion. Legislators can make laws that all scores are in percentage of problems correct and all the hiding of truth from citizens ends. Then when test makers say a student has a 233, we will know if that is 30% correct or 70% correct.
As a teacher, proficient scores mean nothing to me. I am more interested in WHY a student got the score they got than what the score was. If a student cannot add or subtract fractions, is it because they cannot add or subtract whole numbers? Is it because they do not know what an LCD is? Is it because they do not know how to find an LCD? Is it because they do not know how to change the numerator? Is it because the problem was expressed as a mixed number and they do not know what to do with the whole number portion? Just a note that a student is haveing trouble with fractions tells me nothing. Finally, if a teacher needs a state test to tell them a student needs help with fractions, then that teacher needs to be fired and replaced.
So the purpose of state and national testing is solely for the purpose of legislators and control over education. It has NOTHING to do with helping students learn. In fact, 80% of the US was literate, a century ago, the highest literacy rate in the world. Now our citizens are illiterate by those standards.