As lawmakers begin the process of renewing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a report released June 7 by the Education Department (ED) is sure to fuel debate about whether the federal education law should be overhauled to make standards more uniform from state to state.

The federal government's first-ever comparison of how states test for student progress in school shows large variations across the nation. For example, a reading score that rates a fourth-grader "proficient" in Mississippi would be a failing score in Massachusetts.

The study compared what it takes to be rated "proficient" on elementary-...

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