What the national drop in 2015 NAEP test scores really means

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A decade of academic progress halts, NAEP standardized test scores show.

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. The 2015 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and the news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement.

On the heels of tepid results from California’s new standardized tests, another set of scores from a national exam show a dip in student achievement — locally, in the state and across the country.For the first time in about a decade, steady academic progress has halted for fourth- and eighth-grade students nationally and locally, according to new standardized test results released Wednesday. NAEP is often called the nation’s report card because it is the only measure of student achievement given periodically to a sampling of students around the nation. It is seen by many as a high-quality test though it has many critics, too, some of whom say that the NAEP definition of “proficiency” is unnaturally high, and that the test cannot measure many of the qualities students must develop to be successful.

The percentage of San Diego fourth-graders who performed at or above the national proficient level in math was 31 percent this year, down from 42 percent in 2013. 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. 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. Reading scores weren’t much better; eighth-grade scores dropped while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time the test was administered.

West Virginia, however, saw its fourth-grade average math score drop from 237 to 235, and it saw its eighth-grade average math score decrease from 274 to 271. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blamed the declines on a struggling economy and an exaggerated emphasis on testing. School reformers who have touted NAEP score increases in the past as evidence of their success are now trying to spin the newest results as anything but their the failure of their reforms. 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.

Reading scores increased in five urban districts and decreased in three urban districts in at least one grade. “One downturn does not a trend make,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. “Try not to read too much into it at this point. Minnesota generally does well on the NAEP test, even though the trend-monitoring test is broader than Minnesota state standardized exams, said Michael Rodriguez, a professor of educational measurement at the University of Minnesota. We like to see multiple years and multiple occurrences before we express any level of concern.” San Diego’s eighth-graders continue to rank among the best — in reading and math — in the nation’s 21 largest urban school systems, officials said. Unified students reached or exceeded proficiency, compared with 27% in the big cities overall, 27% in Chicago and 26% in New York. “Our results are pretty much consistent with the national trend,” said Cynthia Lim, director of LAUSD’s Office of Data and Accountability. “Our reading scores are flat; our math scores are showing a slight decline.” In eighth-grade reading, Los Angeles’ low-income students have increased their scores faster than students in any other district that have reported results since 2003, growing 16 points. She is also the head of the nonprofit Network for Public Education, an organization co-founded by Diane Ravitch that works to support the improvement of public education.

At the eighth-grade level, reading improved only in West Virginia, up three points from 2013. ▪ There were no significant changes in the achievement gap for reading between white students and their black and Hispanic peers. San Diego’s fourth-graders scored on par with their peers in other large urban districts when it comes to math and reading — even with this year’s eight-percentage-point drop in math scores since 2013. In drilling down on San Diego’s results, officials said students scored lowest on the geometry portion of the exam. “Some things have shifted in the instruction since we moved to Common Core,” said Wendy Ranck-Buhr, San Diego Unified’s director of teaching and learning. “We looked at where geometry falls in the sequence of fourth-grade math, and it’s the next-to-last unit. During the 1970s and ’80s, at the height of school desegregation efforts, the gap in scores between our nation’s white and black students dramatically narrowed. It is difficult to see any real growth across the board since 2011, with math scores backsliding to 2009 levels, eighth-grade reading flat for four years, and a small uptick in fourth-grade reading that is not a significant increase from 2013, which, in turn, was not significantly different from 2011.

He said, however, that he believes the scores were disappointing in part because the tests are not aligned with the new academic standards that students are being taught. This year, the District of Columbia and Mississippi had fourth-grade score gains in mathematics, but the rest of Duncan’s superstars had mathematics scores that dropped or were flat. Colorado, a state that recently received high praise from Bill and Melinda Gates for its implementation of corporate reforms, had reading scores that were flat and math scores that significantly dropped. Some are blaming demographic changes (which conveniently ignores the drop in white student scores on 3 of the 4 tests), while others are attributing the stagnation to the economy (which was far worse in 2011).

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