Quick Reactions to Disappointing NAEP News

Author: Paul Herdman

 

The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—known in our world colloquially as the “Nation’s Report Card”—were released this week. Across the nation, scores remain mostly flat. This is disappointing as we’ve now gone nearly a decade in this country without any strong growth in either reading or math, with the slight exception of eighth grade reading.

 

But for Delaware, the news is even more disappointing.

 

As Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute highlighted, Delaware is one of just a small handful of states that saw scores decline across the board—in fourth grade math and reading, and eighth grade math and reading—from 2013 to 2017. The gap in achievement between white students and black and Hispanic students widened.

 

The state-level data tell us that in math, only 36 percent of fourth-graders and 28 percent of eighth-graders are at or above proficiency. In reading, 36 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders are proficient. The Smarter Assessment, Delaware’s state assessment for grades three through eight, also measures ELA and math through different measures and with different cut scores. Smarter shows that 54 percent of fourth graders proficient in reading and 52 percent in eighth grade. In math, 50 percent of fourth graders are proficient, and 38 percent in eighth grade. Achievement gaps across student subgroups (high-need students and students of color) follow national trends, showing that these students are more likely to fall behind than their peers.

 

As Petrilli notes, figuring out the “why” is difficult at this early stage. The economic downturn, which crunched school spending at the state level and negatively impacted the home lives of many children and families, certainly didn’t help. There could be changes in demographics or it could be a function of our kids simply not taking the test seriously since it didn’t have any implications for them.

 

Whatever the reasons, this is not the news we wanted to hear. We keep a close eye on NAEP because it’s one of the few nationally comparable, long-term measures of student learning available.

 

However, while we need to take it as a serious data point, we also need to keep it in context. The test isn’t universal—it touches only two subjects in two grade levels—and there is no incentive for students or teachers to perform well on the test.

 

Big picture, NAEP is just a single snapshot amid a sea of other measures that provide us with a holistic picture of how our students and schools are performing. Here are some other data to keep in mind –

  • We’ve made great strides on early learning.
  • Our high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates are all heading north.
  • The number of young people entering career pathways grew from 27 to over 9,000 in just four years.
  • And youth unemployment for young adults age 20-24 has largely been in cut in half since 2013, from 12 to 7 percent in 2016.

 

Education doesn’t exist in a silo. We need to look at these data in a broader context, but we should also use these results as a call to action to address our achievement gaps and as motivation to keep pushing forward with our community partners to make sure our young people get the support they need to succeed in a world that is increasingly complex.

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