Mixed results on our National Report Card

Yesterday the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics for 4th and 8th graders. The math assessment focused on measuring students’ grasp of mathematical concepts and their ability to apply those concepts to solve problems.

Overall, there was little or no change from the 2007 scores, although the results were somewhat positive at the eighth grade. However, achievement at both levels has consistently been on the rise since 1990, so much so that fourth and eighth graders today are 2 to 3 years ahead in math than their counterparts two decades ago.

The findings

Fourth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores did not increase between 2007 and 2009. It was the first time there was no increase in fourth grade math.
    • However, since the first year of NAEP in 1990, student achievement in math has increased by nearly three years worth of learning (27 points). 
  • The percent of fourth-graders scoring at or above NAEP’s proficient level has tripled since 1990 (13 percent in 1990 vs. 39 percent in 2009).
    • Moreover, the percent of fourth-graders scoring below NAEP’s basic level has decreased from 50 percent in 1990 to just 18 percent in 2009.
  • Since 2007, achievement gaps have remained unchanged since there was no change in performance for white, Black, or Hispanic students.
    • The Black/White achievement gaps remained at 26 points while the Hispanic/White gap was unchanged at 21 points.
    • However, since 1996 the Black/White achievement gap has gone from 34 points to 26 points, which has reduced the gap by nearly one-fourth. 

Fourth Grade State Level

  • At the state level, scores increased from 2007 to 2009 in eight states (Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia).
    • Four states saw decreases in their scores (Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia, and Wyoming).
  • Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont were the highest performing states while the District of Columbia, Alabama, Arizona and Louisiana were the lowest performing.
  • When it came to educating minority students, Black students in Massachusetts scored higher than Black students in any other state, while Montana did the same for their Hispanic students.

Eighth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased two points from 2007 to 2009. However, students in 2009 know nearly two more years’ worth of math than students in 1990.
  • Scores of higher achieving students grew faster than scores of students at the low end of the achievement spectrum.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2009. The percent scoring below NAEP’s basic level decreased from 48 percent to 27 during the same time period.
  • As at the fourth grade level, achievement gaps remained unchanged between 2007 and 2009. But between 1990 and 2009, the gap widened and began to narrow again:
    • The 2009 Black/White gap of 32 points was eight points narrower than 2000 but no different from 1990.
    • The 2009 Hispanic/White gap was five points narrower than in 2000 but not different from 1990.

Eighth Grade State Level

  • At the eighth grade level, 15 states improved their scores from 2007 to 2009, while no state had a decline in scores. 
  • Once again, Massachusetts obtained the highest scores, followed by New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. On the other hand, Alabama, New Mexico, and West Virginia lagged furthest behind.
  • Just as in the fourth grade, Black eighth graders in Massachusetts outperformed Black students in all other states. But at the eighth grade level, it was Missouri that had the highest scoring Hispanic students.

Should these results be cause for concern? Not necessarily. They are from just one test and results varied dramatically from state to state. The beauty of NAEP is that it is a flashlight that shines on what may be working and what may not. NAEP provides an alarm to local and state leaders to determine if the national results reflect what is going on in their schools. If math results appear to be stagnant, then district and state leaders should provide the right resources to their schools so they have to tools to improve student achievement in math. However, even if they see math achievement increase they should determine whether more resources are needed to accelerate those gains. By doing so, in 2011 we will probably see those dramatic increases in NAEP as we have in years past. –Jim Hull

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