Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier

The EDifier

February 20, 2014

High school graduation rate at an all-time high

NAEPSecretary Duncan proudly wore number 80 on his jersey at the NBA celebrity All-Star game this past weekend— as well he should’ve. It just so happens the number 80 represents one of the best kept secrets in education: our national on-time graduation rate.

This may come as a shock to many as popular perception tends to be the myth that our public schools are flatlining. But the facts show otherwise, as recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show our national on-time graduation rate for our public high schools now stands at 80 percent— an all-time high.  It’s quite an accomplishment considering the rate hovered around 71 percent for much of the 1990s.

And keep in mind, the 80 percent graduation rate represents only those students who earned a standard high school diploma within four years of entering high school so it doesn’t include students who earned a high school equivalency (ex GED) or certificates of completion. Nor does it include those students who took more than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As our report on late high school graduates Better Late Than Never found, including late high school graduates would likely add more than 5 percentage points to the national graduation rate. So the actual national graduation rate is quite likely closer to 90 than 80 percent.

What is even more impressive about these gains is that our high schools are serving an ever more diverse student population. Yet the overall graduation rate increased due to the substantial gains made by minority students. The on-time graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from 64 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2011. During this same time period the on-time graduation rate for black students improved from 61 percent to 67 percent. These are tremendous gains made in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s not overlook the fact that the graduation rate also continued to climb for white students during this same time period (81 to 84 percent).

While these are numbers worth celebrating they also show there is much more work to be done. The attainment gap between minority and white students needs to be closed. While they have narrowed in recent years, the narrowing needs to accelerate so minority students who are just entering school now will have the same chance to graduate as their white classmates.

Of course, simply giving students a diploma will not help them get a job or get into college. So, the diplomas they do receive must represent that fact that these students have completed courses they need to get into and succeed in college or get a quality job after high school. While there is more work to be done to ensure all students leave college and career ready, the data clearly shows our public schools are up the challenge. – Jim Hull

February 7, 2014

U.S. Schools Are Not Flatlining!

NAEPThe idea that U.S. school performance is flat is indefensible. But unfortunately all too many people believe it to be true. Why wouldn’t they? This sentiment is so often stated that it is assumed to be fact, especially since the 2012 PISA results were released last December. For example, in a recent Washington Post column Is The U.S. Making the Grade in Education? columnist Fareed Zakaria wrote “The United States has muddled along over the past few decades, showing little improvement or decline” as if it was undisputed fact even without providing any evidence. Over at Education Week Marc Tucker tries to answer the question Why Has U.S. Education  Performance Flatlined? by cherry-picking a few pieces of data that at first glance appear to support his assumption. Broadly speaking Tucker asserts the U.S. has made little progress since the 1970s in improving student achievement or graduating more students from high school or college.

Marc Tucker is not alone in pointing to such data to claim that U.S. schools are not improving which makes it vitally important to look at all the evidence to determine if indeed our schools have flatlined. As I recently wrote in the American School Boards Journal, the evidence is quite clear that our public schools have not flatlined but are making dramatic improvements in many areas.

Here is the evidence and you decide whether our schools have flatlined or flourished:

Students today are learning more than ever before

If you simply look at overall NAEP scores for our nation’s 17-year olds scores have improved by just six points between 1978 and 2012 it does appear that our schools have indeed flatlined. However, when you take a closer look a much different picture emerges. You’ll see that our nation’s black 17-year olds have improved by 20-points while Hispanic students improved by 18-points—these gains equate to nearly two years worth of learning. The results were even more impressive in reading where black students improved by 28-points between 1975 and 2012 which is nearly three years worth of learning while Hispanic students make a significant progress as well by improving their scores by 21-points. Such lines are hardly flat. Keep in mind that white students made significant gains during these time periods as well. Furthermore, similar gains were made by our nation’s 9- and 13-year olds.

A world leader in improvement

Our schools may not top the international rankings but few countries have improved their performance as much as we have. On the international Trends In Math and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 4th graders saw their math scores improve by 23 points between 1995 and 2011. U.S. eighth graders saw similar improvements with scores rising 18 points during the same time period. For each of these grade levels the gains were among the largest made by participating countries.  It should be noted the U.S. also made significant gains on the 8th grade TIMSS science assessment and on PIRLS the international 4th grade reading assessment.

More students receiving a diploma

Not only are our students learning more, more students are graduating. Although graduation rates remained relatively flat between 1970 and 2000, between 2000 and 2010 they steadily increased from 67 percent to 75. Just like on the achievement measures black and Hispanic students made even greater gains during this period. In 2000 just 50 percent of black students graduated high school within four years. That percentage has climbed to 62 percent in 2010. The improvement made by Hispanic students was even more impressive by increasing from 50 percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2010.

More students are also graduating from college. The percent of the population over 25 with a bachelor’s degree increased from 11 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 2010. During this same time period the percent of black adults with a bachelor’s degree increased from 6 percent 20 percent. For Hispanics, 8 percent of adults held bachelor’s degrees in 1980—the oldest data available—compared to 13.9 percent in 2010.

Despite the common assertion that our schools have flatlined, the facts clearly show our students are performing higher and more students are earning degrees than ever before. Are our schools where we want them to be? No, there is obviously more work that needs to be done. But the facts do show that our public schools are making significant strides and are in the best position to ensure all students obtain the skills they need to lead a successful life. – Jim Hull

February 3, 2014

Early Education: Ups and Downs Since the Great Recession

Recent years have shown an increased interest in early learning for children in the birth-through-eight age span. However, this increased interest coincided with the Great Recession in the United States, and the funding levels for programs for children in pre-K and the early elementary grades have fluctuated wildly since the start of the recession.  New America’s Education Policy Program recently released “Subprime Learning”, a report summarizing the triumphs and trials of early education in the last five years.

One of the largest areas of improvement in the last five years has been in the development of new systems and programs to support birth-to-eight learning. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included close to $11.2 billion for early education (including K-3) and $6.3 billion for birth-to-five programs. Infrastructure is improving across the board with the introduction of competitive programs like Race to the Top that encourage improving data and evaluation systems. The creation of the Common Core Standards means that states are more on the same page than ever before with regard to early education standards, and have been working to create infrastructure that should encourage more collaboration and sharing of information between birth-to-five programs and elementary schools.

There has also been some progress in pre-K access.  Although funding has been cut in many states, universal programs such as those in Oklahoma and Georgia have increased access and Mississippi started a small pre-K program in 2013. Approximately 42% of four-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in some type of public preschool (either pre-K, Head Start, or a special education preschool program), which is up from 40% of four-year-olds in 2009.

Although there is no national testing of children before the age of eight, there are improvements being seen when students are tested at the end of this age spectrum.  Fourth-grade math and reading scores have improved on the NAEP over the last five years, but there still exists enormous achievement gaps between low-income and non-low-income students. This is especially concerning since there are increasing numbers of American children living in poverty: the percentage of children living in poverty increased by five percentage points in the last five years.  Furthermore, little progress has been made with regard to dual language learners and special education students, as their achievement scores have remained stagnant over the last five years.  These are some of the students who would benefit most from early interventions and extra support in the early years of their education, so it is of the utmost importance that our schools make these students a priority moving forward.

Another hurdle for early education is that school improvement programs such as the federal School Improvement Grant program do not require improvements to pre-K-3rd grade, and limited data makes it difficult to determine if there has been any true impact on children in early elementary grades as a result of school improvement programs. Additionally, implementing standards for teachers in early grades where students are not tested has proved difficult.  Since teachers educating children up to age eight are teaching grades and subjects that are not covered by standardized tests, schools have been seeking alternative ways to show student progress in the early grades, but in many states observational tools have not been validated for use in the early grades either.

While there have certainly been some things to celebrate in early education in the last five years, such as improved test scores for fourth-graders, some disconcerting trends came out of this report as well. Just because students are not tested in the younger grades doesn’t mean that early elementary grades should be neglected when it comes to school improvement and teacher quality, as learning and building upon the fundamentals in pre-K-3rd is an extremely important period for a child’s emotional and intellectual development. Furthermore, the lack of progress for special education students and dual language learners is disheartening. While these are two populations facing some of the biggest challenges to learning, they would also benefit the most from increased support in the early years. I certainly hope that as the economy continues to recover, schools and districts will be able to dedicate the funding and resources necessary to help these students achieve.

Check out CPE’s research on pre-K and kindergarten, English language learners, and special education for more information.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,English Language Learners,preschool,Public education — Patricia Campbell @ 7:00 am

December 13, 2013

Black-White Gap in NAEP Scores Remain Stagnant

NAEP Achievement GapsResults from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Black and White student achievement has dramatically improved over the past 25 years. Since 1990, 8th grade math and reading scores have increased by 24 and 9 points respectively for White students. Black scores have showed greater growth, surging up by 24 and 13 points. Considering that 10 NAEP points is generally equivalent to one year’s worth of learning, both ethnic groups are about 2 years head of their 1990 peers in 8th grade math and 1 year ahead in 8th grade reading. Although the overall growth is impressive, the gap between Black and White 8th grade students has not made as much progress, especially in the last 8-10 years.

In terms of 8th grade NAEP math scores, the distance between the two ethnic groups has improved slightly, but most of that growth occurred more than a decade ago. To illustrate this point, consider that in 1990, Black 8th graders were 32 points, roughly 3 years, behind Whites. By 2003, the gap shrunk to 27 points. Since 2003 though, there has been no statistically significant change in gaps; Black 8th grade students in 2013 are 27 points behind behind White students.

The disparity in 8th grade reading achievement is in worse condition. From 1994 to 2002, the gap between Black and White reading scores decreased from about 30 NAEP points to 26. Over the next 5 years the distance between the two groups actually increased to about 27-28 points. Since then, however, the gap has come back down to the 26-point level from 1998. All in all, it’s true that 8th grade reading disparities have shrunk by 4 points, but they’ve also exhibited no significant changes over the last 15 years.

For policymakers, educators and parents, the NAEP data is a stark reminder that while today’s 8th grade Black students are learning more than they ever have, they’re still entering high school about 3 years behind White students–just as their peers were in the early 90’s.  The gap has closed somewhat, but the rate of that closure has lost steam over the last decade.  Education leaders need to raise awareness of this trend and do all they can to identify central causes.

Given that many minority communities reside in large urban school districts education leaders would be wise to absorb next week’s NAEP report on the status of large school districts. It may identify the communities that need more help with achievement gaps. It may also reveal the districts that others should learn from.

~Jordan Belton


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,NAEP — Jordan Belton @ 11:08 am

November 7, 2013

U.S. Students Make Improvements in Math, According to NAEP

According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 4th and 8th graders scored higher in math on the assessment than in any other year. The average score increases at both levels increased by 1 point since 2011.  More students than ever in 4th grade reached the Proficient and Advanced levels and more students than ever in 8th grade reached the Proficient level.  Achievement has consistently been on the rise since 1990 — so much so that 4th and 8th graders today are 2 to 3 years ahead in math than their counterparts two decades ago.

It should be noted, however, that increases have lagged since 2003. The national average for 4th graders has improved by 29 points since 1990. Only 7 of those 29 points, however, have been made in the past 10 years. A similar trend is true for 8th graders. The past ten years is only responsible for 7 of the 22 points gained in the past 23 years.


The Findings

Fourth Grade State Level

  • At the state level, scores increased between 2011 and 2013 in fifteen states (Arizona, District of Columbia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
    • No state saw a decrease in its average 4th grade mathematics score.
  • Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi were the lowest performing.
  • In terms of minority achievement, Black students in North Dakota scored higher than Black students in any other state. Hispanic students in Indiana scored higher than Hispanic students in any other state.

Fourth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased by 1 point between 2011 and 2013.
    • Student achievement in math has increased by 29 points (3 year’s worth of learning) since 1990, the 1st year of NAEP. 
  • The percent of fourth-graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level has more than tripled since 1990 (13 percent in 1990 vs. 42 percent in 2013).
    • Moreover, the percent of fourth-graders scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has decreased from 50 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011.
  • Since 2011, achievement gaps widened slightly for White and Black students. The gap narrowed for White and Hispanic Students.
    • The Black/White achievement gaps narrowed from 25 points to 26 points, while the Hispanic/White gap narrowed from 20 points to 19 points. Blacks remain a little less than 3 years behind Whites, while Hispanics are about 2 years behind.
    • Furthermore, since 2003, the Black/White achievement gap has only decreased by 1 point. The Hispanic/White gap has shrunk by 3 points in that time.

Eighth Grade State Level

  • At the eighth grade level, 6 states improved their scores between 2011 and 2013, while Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota saw a decline. 
  • Massachusetts continues to post the highest eighth grade math scores, with New Jersey, Minnesota and Vermont close behind. The District of Columbia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico scored the lowest.
  • Black eighth graders in Massachusetts outperformed Black eighth graders in all other states. Hispanic students in New Jersey outperformed Hispanics in all other states

Eighth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased one point from 2011 to 2013. However, students in 2013 have obtained about two more years’ worth of math than students in 1990.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1990 to 35 percent in 2013. The percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level decreased from 48 percent to 26 during the same time period.
  • At the eighth grade level, achievement gaps between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics did not change from 2011 to 2013.
    • In 1990, the Black/White gap was 33 points. It rose to 40 in 2000 and has since shrunk down to 31. The Hispanic/White gap started at 24 points in 1990, increased to 31 in 2000 and decreased to 22 in 2013.
    • The Black/White gap has not significantly changed since 2005. The Hispanic gap has not changed since 2009.

For more information on NAEP, check out the Center’s report The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels.



Older Posts »
RSS Feed