The law mandates that, by 2014, all American children (i.e., 100% of the population) should score at proficiency on a set of standardized high school tests. As nice as that may sound, how are the various states doing so far? Very well, according to the states; horribly, according to the federal government. Take Tennessee, to pick on a specific case: according to the state's test, a whopping 87% of its eight-grade kids are doing at or better than proficiency, something that – having actually lived in Tennessee for nine years -- I tell you smells of pure educational fiction. Sure enough, when the same kids were tested using the federal system, only 21% were proficient! And the same goes for many (though not all) other states.
What's going on? Simple, the Bush administration, bowing to its ultra-conservative wing, had to compromise on states' rights, and allowed states to set their own standards of achievement, while telling them that they would be financially penalized if their percentages didn't increase every year. Well, even the officials of Tennessee could figure out the obvious solution: lower your own standards and you'll do better. This is an idea similar to having corporate officers policing themselves (which resulted in the Enron-like scandals of the last few years). Perhaps we should have drunk drivers perform their own alcohol tests?
Educators, of course, are calling for national standards, but they are being opposed by the testing industry, which makes a lot more money by selling 50 different customized sets of tests than it would by selling just one (this is the same reason why the health care industry opposes a single payer system, of course). As a result, kids in Tennessee will feel good about themselves for no particularly good reason, and kids in Kansas will not know anything about one of the most important scientific theories of all times (evolution). Hurray for states' rights!