Tag Archives: NAEP

Over the Long Term, NAEP Scores Are Way, Way Up

In anticipation of new NAEP scores coming out this week, I thought it would be useful to spend some time reflecting beforehand on what we know on a macro scale. So rather than focus on year-year-changes or commit other sins of misNAEPery, I’m using data from the NAEP Long-Term Trend data series, which goes back to 1971 for reading and 1973 for math. Here are the scale score gains, on a 500-point scale, over the last four decades (* signifies statistically significant):

4th grade math

  • All students: +25*
  • White students: +27*
  • Black students: +36*
  • Hispanic students: +32*

8th grade math

  • All students: +19*
  • White students: +19*
  • Black students: +36*
  • Hispanic students: +32*

12th grade math

  • All students: +2
  • White students: +4*
  • Black students: +18*
  • Hispanic students: +17*

4th grade reading

  • All students: +13*
  • White students: +15*
  • Black students: +36*
  • Hispanic students: +25*

8th grade reading

  • All students: +8*
  • White students: +9*
  • Black students: +24*
  • Hispanic students: +17*

12th grade reading

  • All students: +2
  • White students: +4*
  • Black students: +30*
  • Hispanic students: +21*

There are at least four important things the data are telling us:

1. Although NAEP scores barely budge year-to-year, over the long term, NAEP scores are way, way up. Remember that no matter what happens this week.

2. Math scores are rising faster than reading scores. There’s nothing new to say here, except to note that this is a large-scale reminder that math scores are easier to improve than reading scores.

3. There are clear age trends emerging in the data. Fourth-graders have made greater gains than eighth-graders, and eighth-graders have made larger gains than twelfth-graders. In fact, we see statistically significant gains in both subjects and in all races, except the composite scores in 12th grade.

4. Changing demographics are masking how much NAEP scores have improved. Although all races are rising individually, scores are rising faster for black and Hispanic students than they are for white students or for the overall composite. As I wrote earlier this year, “Because NAEP takes a representative sample, it’s also vulnerable to something called Simpson’s Paradox, a mathematical paradox in which the composition of a group can create a misleading overall trend. As the United States population has become more diverse, a representative sample picks up more and more minority students, who tend to score lower overall than white students. That tends to make our overall scores appear flat, even as all of the groups that make up the overall score improve markedly.” Here are the percentage of NAEP 4th-grade test-takers who were white over the various testing years:

  • 1971: 84
  • 1975: 80
  • 1980: 79
  • 1984: 75
  • 1988: 75
  • 1990: 74
  • 1992: 74
  • 1994: 76
  • 1996: 71
  • 1999: 69
  • 2004: 59
  • 2008: 56
  • 2012: 53

These demographic trends are nearly identical at every age level, and they’re wreaking havoc on our ability to neatly understand our national results. As is clear in the data above, in both math and reading and at every age level tested, all races are improving at least as fast as the nation as a whole. Achievement gaps are closing as black and Hispanic students have made even faster progress.

Similar trends are playing out in other subjects like geography, history, and civics.

I note all this in anticipation that this week’s NAEP results aren’t likely to show much change from the last NAEP results in 2013. Scores may appear “flat,” but we should think of the entire American education system as like a glacier; it may be moving at an almost imperceptibly slow pace, but it is moving.


Why Aren’t NAEP Scores for High School Students Going Up?

I have a new report out today called “Mind the Gap: The Case for Re-Imagining the Way States Judge High School Quality.” I hope you’ll give it a read.

I’ll be blogging about it all week, starting today with a look at why we even need high school accountability systems at all. As I point out in the paper, we’re in the midst of a strange paradox. Reading and math achievement levels are increasing for 4th- and 8th-graders, but they’ve barely budged for high school students. High school graduation rates are at all-time highs, and more students are going to and persisting in college, but college dropouts are now a bigger problem than high school dropouts. Continue reading

Simpson’s Paradox Hides NAEP Gains (Again)

Is the education space mature enough to handle NAEP tests every two or four years? I’m not so sure.

NAEP is the “Nation’s Report Card.” It takes a representative sample of United States students and tests them in reading, math, social studies, science, the arts, etc. There are several versions of NAEP intended to sample different groups of students–the nation as a whole, individual states, or large cities–but its overall goal is to provide citizens a snapshot of how we’re doing as a country.

The United States is a big country, and it takes a long time to move the needle on student achievement scores. Depending on the subject and sample, NAEP releases test results every two or every four years. When those scores come out, they almost always look flat. Once this same “flat” result gets repeated over and over, that starts to seep into our collective consciousness about how American students are doing.

But that’s the wrong way to look at it. From a long-term perspective, the achievement levels of American students are at or near all-time highs. Some groups of students are doing particularly well. The achievement scores of black, Hispanic, and low-income students have increased dramatically. Continue reading

Let’s Talk about Tests: Four Questions to Ask

If you follow education news, politics, and social media, it’s clear that testing is having a moment. I was surprised it wasn’t listed alongside Taylor Swift as a nominee for Time magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year. Everyone–policymakers, unions, state leaders, local administrators, teachers, parents, you name it–seems to agree that the amount of testing and its role in America’s schools and classrooms merit reconsideration. But the momentum of this “over-testing” meme has overshadowed the fact that testing policy is complicated. And when the field talks about “over-testing,” it’s often not talking about the same kinds of tests or the same set of issues.

To help clarify and elevate our over-testing conversation (because it’s here to stay), here are four questions to ask, with considerations to weigh, when deciding whether testing is indeed out of control–and evaluating the possible options to change it. Continue reading