Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Anemic report card for nation’s school kids.

Math scores slipped for fourth and eighth graders over the last two years, and reading grades were not much better, flat for fourth graders and lower for eighth graders, according to the 2015 Nation’s Report Card. After being ranked first in the nation for education for more than a decade, Maryland is seeing its scores in a key national test drop for fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.

For 25 years, through four presidential administrations, U.S. schools could rely on one small truth: Math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP test, always went up.For the fourth time in a row, Detroit ranked last among urban school districts that participated in a rigorous national test, with students showing no significant improvement in math or reading.Fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States lost ground on national mathematics tests this year, the first declines in scores since the federal government began administering the exams in 1990.

For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by the Education Department on Wednesday. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged parents, teachers, and others not to panic about the scores as states embrace higher academic standards, such as Common Core. “We should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that ‘implementation dip’ is part of what we’re seeing here,” Duncan said in a phone call with reporters. “I would caution everyone to be careful about drawing conclusions … anyone who claims to have this all figured out is pedaling a personal agenda, rather than an educational one.” Reacting to the scores, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said one year’s worth of data shouldn’t send the nation’s schools and teachers off in a different direction. “Having the higher academic standards caused the states and teachers and districts to change the way they’re teaching certain things,” Minnich said in an interview. “We may be in a place where some of the questions that are asked on this national test aren’t being taught at the same time they were being taught before.” The Common Core standards were developed by the states with the support of the administration. The changes were so small they were “not statistically significant,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Education Statistics. Despite the precipitous drop, state officials said Maryland students remain above the national average in most areas, noting that overall national scores also took a hit this year. “I think the good news for Maryland is we were a lot more inclusive,” said Jack R. Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased.

They spell out what students should know in English and math at each grade level, with a focus on critical thinking and less of an emphasis on memorization. But many people look to NAEP scores as an important barometer of U.S. student achievement because they are the only exams that have been given nationwide over a long period of time, capturing the performance of rich and poor children of all ethnicities in urban, suburban and rural communities. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools. “It’s obviously bad news,” said Michael J. Recent demographic shifts mean that schools are grappling with the challenge of educating an increasing number of students who come from low-income families and are learning how to speak English. Smith said other factors were involved, too. “It’s very concerning, and it poses a lot of questions that we as educators need to consider,” he said.

The NAEP tests don’t align completely with Common Core, but NAEP officials said there was “quite a bit” of overlap between the tests and the college-ready standards. —36 percent of fourth graders were at or above the proficient level in reading, about the same as 2013. And in recent years, most states have adopted sweeping educational policy changes, including teacher evaluations tied to test scores and Common Core academic standards that have changed what and how students learn in the classroom.

The inclusion of more special-education and English-language learners in 2015 brought Maryland in line with other states after it previously led the nation in excluding students from the NAEP. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. “We don’t want to see scores going in this direction.” “That doesn’t mean we should completely freak out,” he added. “This could be a one-time variation, and maybe we’ll see things come back next time. The Maryland declines in NAEP come a day after state officials saw lower-than-expected results in the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments.

But the new standards and other policies, Duncan said, are poised to improve student achievement — and students’ lives — in the long terdatam. “Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that slipping NAEP scores are evidence that the nation’s focus on using standardized tests to judge teachers and schools has failed. Nationally, average NAEP scores were also lackluster, with average math scores declining slightly among fourth- and eighth-graders, and in eighth-grade reading.

Carr ruled out “test fatigue” on the part of students, saying researchers who looked into that found no evidence that students in 2015 were any less engaged in the test than in past years. “This isn’t a pattern that we saw coming,” she said. “In that sense, it was an unexpected downturn. The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America’s schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers. “It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to first see a slight decline before you see improvement,” said William J. I think the bigger point is that we’ll see if this is going to be a trend that will continue.” The Obama administration last week moved to limit the time students spend taking and preparing for standardized tests, saying testing is “consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students.” In its plan to reduce how much testing takes place in school, the administration took at least part of the blame for “unnecessary” testing without a clear purpose. The exam is the country’s most consistent measure of K-12 progress, and because it has been in place for so long, it can offer insight into the effects of demographic and policy changes. As a group, the scores of Hispanic students trail those of white students; this year, for example, 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at a level deemed proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted to Maryland and Baltimore’s large declines, but said the drops were “good news” because they reflected the state’s efforts to be more inclusive of certain populations — such as students with disabilities and English Language Learners. Scores have risen considerably since the first exams in the 1990s and, despite this year’s declines, are still among the highest posted by American students. Observers were quick to offer theories on the drop — everything from the recent recession to the rise of the new, more challenging Common Core curriculum. For example, 66 percent of fourth-graders with disabilities were excluded in the reading test in 2013, far higher than the national rate of 16 percent.

Larry Hogan (R) used the state’s declining scores to swipe at his predecessor, Martin O’Malley, as the former two-term governor runs for the Democratic nomination for president. This year, state officials reported an exclusion rate of 3.6 percent in fourth-grade reading compared with 12.6 percent in 2013; and only 4.7 percent of eighth graders were excluded, down from 9.2 percent in 2013. Hogan accused the O’Malley administration of creating a “false sense of security” and doing a “major disservice” to Maryland parents and students by “purposefully” excluding students who would post lower scores. As states raise standards, he said, “it will take time for students and teachers to adjust.” He also suggested that there may be differences between what schools now teach and what NAEP tests. “NAEP is one measure and it must be considered in the context of other measures of student achievement, such as state test scores, graduation rates, remediation rates, college entrance exams, and others,” he said.

The average fourth-grade math score this year was 240 on a scale of 500, down from 242 in 2013, the last time the federal assessment results were released. Former Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso decided to have the district join TUDA so city students could be measured against peers in districts of similar size and demographics.

Since then, the district has noted gains or held steady in reading and math, though it has consistently ranked in the bottom third in performance with Detroit and Cleveland. The results showed that 10 percent of District students who took a new geometry test and 25 percent who took a new high school English test were proficient. Kaya Henderson, the public schools chancellor, attributed the progress to strong teacher recruitment and training, preschool for 90 percent of the district’s 4-year-olds and a new mandatory curriculum.

She also credited consistency of leadership — Henderson is in her sixth year as chancellor — and the city’s investment in universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. But with students taking so many other standardized tests, some educators said those who took the national exams, which were administered from January to March, may simply have had test fatigue. Matthew Chingos, a researcher at the Urban Institute, said it is not very useful to compare overall state scores to one another because states are educating such different populations of students. She attributed the gains to improved professional development, better academic standards, the city’s hefty investment in early-childhood education, and consistency in leadership and strategy. A state with a more challenging student population can be doing a relatively good job with those students but still trail states with student populations that are whiter or more affluent.

Public Charter School Board, said the results offer “a nice counterpoint to the PARCC results” and the benefit of a long-term view. “It shows that our schools have been steadily getting better,” he said.

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