No shortage of eduwonks have opinions on today's release of 2015 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed that American students' proficiency in reading was basically flat and proficiency in math was slightly down.
Commentary can be divided into two camps. One group is understandably disappointed in national dips but sagely taking the long view. Another group seizes the scores for political gain and, as Morgan Polikoff notes, engages in misNAEPery:
Some folks are out with screeds blaming the results on particular policies that they don’t like (test-based accountability, unions, charters, Arne Duncan, etc.). Regardless of what the actual results were, they’d have made these same points. So these folks should be ignored in favor of actual research. In general, people offering misNAEPery can only be of two types: (1) people who don’t know any better, or (2) people who know better but are shameless/irresponsible. Generally I would say anyone affiliated with a university who is blaming these results on particular policies at this point is highly likely to be in the latter camp.
First, a roundup of the former group:
Arne Duncan in the Washington Post: "Big change never happens overnight. I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”
Duncan also reminded the Wall St. Journal that "Massachusetts faced an initial drop in results after raising its standards two decades ago, but persevered and became a top performer."
Another top performer was DC:
Among cities, District of Columbia Public Schools saw some of the strongest gains in fourth-grade reading and math since 2013, building on a rise from 2011. Chancellor Kaya Henderson credited a more rigorous teacher-evaluation system, targeted professional development, a strong curriculum and a major investment in early childhood education. She said 90% of 4-year-olds and 72% of 3-year-olds now attend free preschool.
More from Morgan Polikoff:
“The work we have done to radically improve the caliber of our teacher force and principal force is paying off,” she said.
These results are quite disappointing and shouldn’t be sugar-coated. Especially in mathematics, where we’ve seen literally two decades of uninterrupted progress, it’s (frankly) shocking to see declines like this. We’ve become almost expectant of the slow-but-steady increase in NAEP scores, and this release should shake that complacency. That said, we should not forget the two decades of progress when thinking about this two-year dip (nor should we forget that we still have yawning opportunity and achievement gaps and vast swaths of the population unprepared for success in college or career).
Eric Lerum cautions in Education Post that we shouldn't get sucked into one-year shifts and, instead, look at the big picture:
Overall NAEP scores since 2003? They’re up.
Aaron Pallas via Chalkbeat, an education professor at Columbia University, commented on New York State and New York City's NAEP scores, which didn't move in reading and trended slightly lower in math:
And a report released just this week finds that while NAEP results have increased more than should be expected given demographic shifts during that same period, the results for similar students vary widely across states.
Finally, since we’re now solidly in the Common Core-era, it makes sense to examine the alignment between Common Core standards and the questions asked on the NAEP exam. Another new study tackles this issue and finds that although there is reasonable overlap when it comes to mathematics, the NAEP exam may be due for an update to better reflect what we expect kids to be learning in the classroom.
New York City’s scores are near or above the averages for other large urban school systems in all categories except for fourth-grade math, but lag well behind national averages. Experts say, though, that the lack of growth since 2013 isn’t especially meaningful.
Matthew Chingos told the Wall St. Journal,
“On challenging assessments like NAEP it’s really hard to move the needle,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “You’re not likely to see big changes over relatively brief periods of time.”
Some researchers cautioned against seeing the declines as reflecting specific initiatives because so many factors can affect test results, including the economy, local school budgets and demographic shifts. For example, the percentage of test-takers who were poor and Hispanic rose. The results “are useful for keeping a pulse on student achievement,” said Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “The casual punditry of eyeballing the scores and saying this is because of Common Core, testing or teacher evaluations—that doesn’t make any sense.
And then there's the latter group that posits, implausibly, that stagnant scores point to deficits directly attributable to elevated expectations for students and teachers.
AFT President Randi Weingarten in the Washington Post:
Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence that our kids have suffered, these latest NAEP scores again show that the strategy of testing and sanctioning, coupled with austerity, does not work,” Weingarten said in a statement.
And Weingarten in the Los Angeles Times:
The scores "should give pause to anyone who still wishes to … make competition [and] scapegoating teachers … the dominant education strategies," Weingarten said in a statement.
Weingarten's remarks are echoed by Carol Burris, head of Diane Ravitch's Network on Public Education:
She called for a "reset on education policy" following President Obama's announcement this weekend that standardized testing should not take up more than 2% of class time.
Today’s National Assessment of Educational Progress score flop should come as no surprise. You cannot implement terrible education policies and expect that achievement will increase.
And Diane Ravitch herself:
The federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).
You get the idea. Do we look to Massachusetts and D.C., which have implemented higher standards for several years and demonstrate increased student proficiency in reading and math? Or do we look to novice aspirants (i.e., just about everyone else) that have yet to move the needle? Do we acknowledge that American public schools have far to travel before we serve all students well or do we blame disappointing results on efforts to do exactly that?
Everyone wishes (well, maybe everyone except anti-reform spinmeisters) that the NAEP results were better. They're not. The lesson here isn't to abandon nascent reforms but to buckle down until all American children are effectively served by our public schools.