NAEP Test Scores Show How Stupid We Are… To Pay Attention to NAEP Test Scores

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Brace yourselves!

 

America’s NAEP test scores in 2019 stayed pretty much the same as they were in 2018!

 

And the media typically set its collective hair on fire trying to interpret the data.

 

Sometimes called the Nations Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test is given to a random sampling of elementary, middle and high school students in member countries to compare the education systems of nations.

 

And this year there was one particular area where US kids did worse than usual!

 

Our scores went down in 8th grade reading!

 

To be honest, scores usually go up or down by about one or two points every year averaging out to about the same range.

 

But this year! Gulp! They went down four points!

 

FOUR POINTS!

 

What does that mean?

 

Absolutely nothing.

 

They’re standardized test scores. They’re terrible assessments of student learning.

 

You might as well compare the relative body temperatures of randomly selected students and wonder why we aren’t bridging the body warmth gap with the somber hummingbird! I mean it has an average  temperature of 114 F! And the best we can do is a measly 98.6 F! Why won’t enough kids get a fever for America!?

 

If test scores have any meaning at all – it’s parental wealth. Rich kids tend to score higher than poor kids. That’s partially because of the inequality of resources each receive, but also because of racial, cultural and economic bias embedded in the questions.

 

So the NAEP shows us what any study of parental income would show. America has a lot of poor kids and underfunded schools.

 

Thanks, NAEP! There’s no way we could ever have figured that out without you!

 

But having this information come to us via test scores allows us to deflect from the real problem and instead continually blame the victim.

 

Why can’t these poor kids from impoverished schools score as well as kids from richer countries with more well-funded schools?

 

I can’t imagine!

 

Typically politicians used the results to push their pet policies.

 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used the scores to wash her hands of the entire public education system. I know – isn’t her job to safeguard public schools? It’s like a zoo keeper complaining that the penguins aren’t bringing in enough visitors and then refusing to feed them.

 

DeVos proposed we improve test scores by cutting $4.8 billion from public schools in 2020 and instead pumping $5 billion to a tax credit school voucher scheme that props up private schools.

 

I know that sounds dumb, but before you judge her, realize she also proposed cutting federal funding for afterschool programs, teacher professional development, student support and enrichment programs.

 

So there.

 

Education Blogger Peter Greene claims that this move is based on a reading comprehension problem the Education Secretary is having, herself.

 

She says that the NAEP results mean that 2/3 of American students read below grade level. However, Greene points out that she is conflating two different things – grade level proficiency and NAEP proficiency.

 

Here’s what the NAEP wrote:

 

“The NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade-level proficiency, but rather competency over challenging subject matter. NAEP Achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.”

 
Which kind of begs the question of why we need these scores in the first place.

 

There is much clearer data out there.

 

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that 29 states spent less per student in 2015 than they had before the Great Recession.

 

And the federal government has done little to help. Since 2011, spending on major K-12 programs – including Title I grants for underprivileged students and special education – has been basically flat.

 

According to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, today’s public schools employ at least 250,000 fewer people than they did before the recession of 2008–09. Meanwhile enrollment has increased by at least 800,000 students.

 

So to ensure our students had the same quality of service children received only a decade ago, we’d need to hire almost 400,000 more teachers!

 

That’s how you cut class size down from the 20, 30, even 40 students packed into a room that you can routinely find in some districts today.

 

If we looked at realities like these instead of test scores – which at best provide us data at several removes – we might actually be motivated to reach solutions.

 

For instance, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world – if not probably the ONLY country – that funds schools based largely on local taxes. Other developed nations either equalize funding or provide extra money for kids in need. In the Netherlands, for example, national funding is provided to all schools based on the number of pupils enrolled. But for every guilder allocated to a middle-class Dutch child, 1.25 guilders are allocated for a lower-class child and 1.9 guilders for a minority child – exactly the opposite of the situation in the U.S.

 

If we want to compare the US to other countries, this is a perfect place to start.

 

But a focus on test scores obscures the differences.

 

Virtually all of the top scoring countries taking these exams have much less child poverty than the U.S. If they had the same percentage of poor students that we do, their scores would be lower than ours. Likewise, if we had the same percentage of poor students that they do, our scores would go through the roof! We would have the best scores in the world!

 

These scores just mirror back to us our child poverty rate – that more than 1/3 of our students live below the poverty line and more than half of public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

 

But this myopic focus on standardized tests also blinds us to the ways our system is superior to that of many other countries.

 

We do something that many international systems do not. We educate everyone! Foreign systems often weed children out by high school. They don’t let every child get 13 years of grade school (counting kindergarten). They only school their highest achievers.

 

So when we compare ourselves to these countries, we’re comparing ALL of our students to only SOME of theirs – their best academic pupils, to be exact. Yet we still hold our own given these handicaps!

 
This suggests that the majority of problems with our public schools are monetary. Pure and simple.

 

At least House Democrats passed a Labor-HHS-Education funding bill to increase public school funding by $3.5 billion. Even if it were somehow passed by the Republican controlled Senate, that’s a drop in the bucket after decades of neglect – but it’s something!

 

It’s certainly better than DeVos who claims that funding somehow doesn’t matter for public schools – only for her pet charter and voucher schools.

 

A 2018 review by Northwestern University found that in 12 out of 13 studies increased spending had a positive effect on student outcomes. And that result has been verified by studies since then in California, Texas, Wisconsin and other states.

 
Money makes a difference.

 

Money spent on students – not more testing.

 

So why the drop in this year’s 8th grade reading scores?

 

Who knows? It could be a spike in the rate or effect of child poverty in the middle school years.

 

It could be the impact of decades of high stakes testing on middle school curriculum – narrowing what is taught and muscling out authentic instruction.

 

Frankly it doesn’t matter because the data is suspect.

 

Standardized testing will never give us an accurate picture of what is going on with our students or our schools.

 

And until we, as a society, finally realize that and focus on things that actually matter, we will continue to fail the only test that matters – how well we provide for our children.

 

 


 

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13 thoughts on “NAEP Test Scores Show How Stupid We Are… To Pay Attention to NAEP Test Scores

  1. Meanwhile, Finland doesn’t have mandatory standardized tests for anything, but this country keeps being ranked as having one of the best public school systems in the world.

    In Finland, the teachers are in charge.

    In Finland, the teachers are respected and trusted instead of blamed for everything like in the United States by corrupt idiots like Brainless Betsy the Beast. I’m sure American public school teachers have been blamed for clogged sewers, illegal drug use epidemics caused by big pharma and prison populations caused by President Nixon and Reagan’s war on illegal recreational drug use.

    In the U.S., it is okay to drink a quart of whiskey every night and destroy your liver but do not smoke weed. Smoke tobacco instead and help the rich get richer while you end up with lung cancer and no medical care.

    While having national standards in Finland, the teachers are not required to teach them all. What standards a teacher teaches in Finland is up to them and the children will not be tested to see if they remembered anything they were taught from those standards.

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  2. Hey, Steven. Every state is different. Even in America individual states can have some culture and identity differences. Is it really a good idea to implement the same teaching methods and curriculum in every state?

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    • Sure, Mark, every state has a different funding formula for its schools and some even try to allocate funding more equitably. But far too many – like my home of Pennsylvania – allocate money based largely on local wealth. It’s a national disgrace. And regardless of how states make these decisions the result is usually the same – less for the poor and more for the rich.

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  3. I cannot help but remember when Eric Hanushek, back in 2012, the following: “As a nation, if we could be Finland, which is at the top of these scores, there’s pretty strong evidence that the present value of future gains to the US economy is $100 trillion dollars.”

    This nonsense was picked up by Bill Gates and used to justify his campaign to rid our schools of “bad teachers” by weakening due process and linking evaluations to test scores.

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/01/battling_the_bad_teacher_bogey.html

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  4. Steven, I think you need to learn more about the NAEP and how to properly compare results over time and across states. NAEP is only a messenger about problems, but shooting it isn’t appropriate, either.

    You might find this of interest: “Wise and Proper Use of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Data.”

    Online link at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239803692_Wise_and_Proper_Use_of_National_Assessment_of_Educational_Progress_NAEP_Data

    Or here if you have subscription:

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15582159.2012.673932

    Also, don’t confuse correlation with proof of causation. There are cases where disadvantaged students with the right supports do better than expected. I am looking at a comparison right now between Mississippi and Kentucky’s results over time, and recently something has started happening in Mississippi. But, you have to disaggregate the data by race to see that.

    One more point: Since 2015 the NAEP school lunch data provides a questionable measure of poverty across states due to the introduction of the Community Eligibility Program to the federal school lunch program. Reporting of lunch eligibility across states isn’t consistent anymore.

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