There are two articles out today, one from the Fran Stancavage and George Bohrnstedt at the American Institute for Research and the other from Michael Feuer of the National Academy of Education, that reassure educators and parents that relatively flat NAEP scores don’t presage disaster.
In other words, don’t listen to former historian Diane Ravitch who emotes, “NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).”
No, not really. NAEP assessments, which measure a sampling of 4th and 8th grade student proficiency in math and reading every two years, are never a straight line over time and, as Feuer points out, “ a two-point drop during a two-year period, though “statistically significant, doesn’t exactly constitute a trend.” He continues,
Indeed, one of the advantages of NAEP is that it enables a longer-term view: yes, we should wonder — and a little worrying is fine — why on average 4th graders dropped from 242 to 240 in math, and why on average 8th graders dropped from 268 to 265 in reading. But we should also keep in mind that the 2015 averages, in both math and reading and at both grade levels, are significantly higher than in the early 1990s.
So, says Feuer, “don’t panic”: “it helps to remember that during the early 1970s American economic productivity growth dropped, which led to widespread panic about our international competitiveness, the quality of our workforce, and our standard of living. Only when the short-term data were put in their proper temporal perspective did we regain our senses and realize that while we had economic problems the sky hadn’t really fallen.”
Corroborating this prudent analysis, Stancavage and Bohrnstedt caution education policy makers “don’t throw the [Common Core] baby out with the bathwater.”
While new, locally developed higher standards have been adopted in most states, implementation in many places is still in the early stages. New curricula are being developed and introduced to teachers and students that are far more demanding than the curricula they replaced.
And, “perhaps most important, teachers need time to build hands-on experience with the new standards, and the curricula based on them. It may be years before all teachers are well prepared for their new assignments.”
So, once you get past the anti-Common Core propaganda, what do NAEP scores actually look like for New Jersey and New York? Let’s look at 4th grade scores in math, which nationally showed about a two-point decline.
In the Garden State, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the average score for students in New Jersey in 2015 (245) was not significantly different from their average score in 2013 (247) and was higher than their average score in 2003 (239).”
In New York, reports NCES,
In 2015, the average score of fourth-grade students in New York was 237. This was lower than the average score of 240 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in New York in 2015 (237) was lower than their average score in 2013 (240) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (225). The percentage of students in New York who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 35 percent in 2015. This percentage was smaller than that in 2013 (40 percent) and was greater than that in 2000 (21 percent). The percentage of students in New York who performed at or above the NAEP Basic level was 79 percent in 2015. This percentage was smaller than that in 2013 (82 percent) and was greater than that in 2000 (66 percent).
So, what are we to make of these squiggles in NY and NJ? On paper, NJ’s scores appear more stable; however, the state made no dent in the achievement gaps among different ethnicities and socio-economic groups. According to NCES, any changes were “statistically insignificant.” NY students, on the other hand, who have been exposed to higher standards for a while, showed improvement in achievement gaps. From NCES: “In 2015, students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch, an indicator of low family income, had an average score that was 20 points lower than that for students who were not eligible. This performance gap was narrower than that in 2000 (26 points).”
So, what’s the bottom line? This year’s NAEP scores are a data point, subject to economic vacillations and changes in student expectations, and we’re well-advised to avoid wild extrapolations a la Ravitch.