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April 28, 2016

12th graders’ math scores drop, reading flatlines

And just when we had allowed ourselves to get giddy over record-shattering high school graduation rates.

NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report card, released the results of its 2015 assessment of high school seniors’ math and reading proficiency. Like their 4th and 8th grade schoolmates, whose 2015 scores were published last fall, the nation’s 12th-graders either made no progress or dropped a few points, especially in mathematics. Worse, scores for the lowest performers fell the most in both subjects.

Let’s start with reading. The overall score was 1 point lower on the NAEP scale from two years ago, which is not a statistically significant change. However, 12th graders are performing 5 points lower compared to their peers in 1992, the first year the main-NAEP reading assessment was administered.

There was no noticeable change since 2013 in the scores of any racial/ethnic group, or in the achievement gaps between them.

Indeed, the biggest change was at the bottom. In just the last two years, the proportion of students who did not even read at the basic level grew, from 25 to 28 percent.  What this means in more tangible terms is that this group of soon-to-be-graduates cannot recognize the main purpose of expository text; cannot recognize the main purpose of an argument; and cannot explain a character’s action from a story description.

The math picture isn’t any rosier. The overall math score fell a significant 3 points on the NAEP scale. While this is still 2 points higher than in 2005 – the first administration of the test’s new math framework – it does represent a reversal after years of steady gains. As with reading, the math scores were relatively flat for every racial/ethnic group compared to 2013. One happy exception: scores for English language learners rose by 4 points.

Math also saw an increase of the wrong kind. A whopping 38 percent of high school seniors did not perform at the basic level in 2015, an increase of 3 points over 2013. This is troubling on its own merits. It is truly baffling when considering that 90 percent of seniors reported having taken Algebra II or a higher math course in high school.  We should see this group of low performers shrinking, not growing larger.

Of high interest to education policymakers and parents is the degree to which 12th graders are prepared for college work. Beginning in 2008, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, commissioned several studies linking NAEP performance levels to college readiness. Based on the analysis, just slightly more than a third of seniors in 2015 scored at a level showing they had the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in freshmen courses. But ready or not, two-thirds of them will be bound for two- and four-year colleges the October following graduation.

Why is this happening? Many advocates have been quick to point to policies like Common Core, too much testing, not enough testing, or whatever other bee sticks in their bonnets. But as I have written elsewhere, there is not enough information at this point to lay the blame on any one of these, although they surely warrant watching. Likewise, some observers have noted the increase in childhood poverty, which also deserves attention.

I think another explanation might be found in one of our great successes. High school graduation rates have exploded in just the last 10 years. In 2013, 81 percent of all high school students graduated within four years. We know from research that failing grades are high risk factors for students. Up until recently, these low performers would have dropped out before showing up in the NAEP data as seniors. The fact that they are still in school is a good thing, but it may also be dragging 12th grade scores down.

The truth is, it’s too soon for us to know for sure why this happened. But there are enough questions that schools should be examining to get us back on the right track.

  • Do the high-level courses students are taking in larger numbers actually represent high-level content?
  • Do schools have enough counselors and other trained professionals to not just make sure students stay in school, but have the support they need to perform academically?
  • Are teachers also supported as they implement higher standards in their classrooms?
  • Finally, are federal, state and local policymakers providing the resources high schools need to assure every student graduates ready to succeed in college, careers and life?
Filed under: Assessments,CPE,High school,NAEP,Reading,Testing — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 10:52 am

March 18, 2016

Improving civics education is key to strong, equitable democracy

While the constant news coverage and interest in the presidential campaign might suggest Americans are well-versed in our country’s political process, data from the latest civics assessment of NAEP, colloquially known as the Nation’s Report Card, finds otherwise.

Indeed, the results show that there is not only a widespread lack of civic knowledge, but it is especially pronounced among minority students.

Administered on a rotating basis to fourth, eighth and 12th-grade students from participating schools, the data from the last Civics Assessment for 12th- graders show that 62% of African American students have a below basic knowledge of civics, and only 8% are at or above proficient. Meanwhile, 50% of Hispanic students possess below basic knowledge of civics, with 13% are at or above proficient.

What kind of knowledge gaps are we talking about?

Based on the sample questions in the NAEP assessment, most minority students in eighth-grade cannot name a right protected by the First Amendment, while most 12th-grade minority students cannot explain the meaning of a Supreme Court opinion. A mere 3% of 12th-graders nationally knew that the Supreme Court could use judicial review to preserve the rights of minorities.

Conversely, white students are performing better on each aspect of the civics exam, creating a civic engagement gap that is important for the nation to address. Democracy cannot be fully realized when citizens do not recognize how the government works and their own ability to make change. Research shows that civic learning corresponds to an increase in students’ civic participation and likelihood of voting. Building a civic identity in students will increase their sense of empowerment over their lives and the direction of their communities.

An unintended consequence of recent policies pushing for achievement and excellence in reading and math is that there is less time in the curriculum for other subjects. Science and social studies are often sidelined to increase time in English and math courses. Seventy-one percent of districts have cut back on time dedicated to subjects other than math and English— the largest cut coming from social studies. This has meant that civics education is not valued as much as courses that will prepare students for standardized testing. Civics education is vital for all students so that they are able to participate in democracy and engage the community in a meaningful way.

A great danger for the future of the United States is that we are educating a citizenry that does not understand how to have a voice in politics, how the government of the United States operates, or how to enact change and influence in their communities; particularly among poor and minority populations.

While it is important that students continue to have strong content knowledge in English and math, it must also make time in the curriculum for civics education. Civics courses will complement English and math courses as it requires students to read, think critically, write, and analyze charts, graphs and data. Further, students who feel empowered to change their communities and circumstances and receive instruction that is relevant to their lives become more engaged in school which could lead to higher performance in all subjects.

It is imperative that all students learn how to participate in a democracy and then create change in their communities in a civically responsible manner. A civics course that requires students to learn how the United States government works as well as how to be active, politically-engaged citizens must be included in public school curricula.  -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,First Amendment,NAEP — Tags: , — Breanna Higgins @ 7:00 am

January 14, 2016

Graduation Rates are High: Goal Met?

It’s now no secret that graduation rates have hit an all-time high of 82%, and as our previous blog post reminds us, the rate is even higher when we count students who took more than 4 years to earn their diploma. But, what does a high school diploma today mean? Unfortunately, as Robert Pondiscio at the Thomas Fordham Institute points out, SAT scores have dropped, the recent NAEP performance has seen a slight decrease, and there is a growing need for higher education institutions to offer remedial courses.

The newest report from Achieve – Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts reiterates the point that while more high school students are earning diplomas, these students are not necessarily adequately prepared for the next stage of their lives. In fact, over half of college-going students will have to take at least one remedial English or math course. In addition, less than half of college-goers actually graduate and 60 percent of employers report that high school graduates are lacking the necessary basic skills.

In light of this, we may need to tamper the excitement of rising high school graduation rates. Rather, we need to focus on making a high school diploma more meaningful. Students who graduate high school must be college and/or career ready. This is the next wave of reform. Many organizations, including Achieve, are working to create high school standards that are better aligned with the skills students need to be successful in college and career. The first part of this means to raise the standards for high school students to graduate and work to bridge the gap in academic expectations between high school and college. The second part is to include more career readiness skills in the high school curriculum. CPE’s report “The Path Least Taken” highlights the need for non-college-going students to have the necessary skills to achieve economic success. There is much debate about what career readiness skills are and where schools will find time in the school day to teach them (ex. Financial literacy, email etiquette, personal responsibility etc.). The conversation around that will, and should, continue.

Achieve advocates for including more “real world tasks” as assessments in schools. This is critical. Teachers will all agree on the difficulty of getting students to see the purpose behind the content they learn in classes, which in turn effects their engagement in class. Students don’t see the relevancy of Algebra II, English, Physics, etc. in real life or believe they will ever need those skills in the workplace. Standards, tests, and curriculum can be better aligned with real-world examples and projects so that students are more engaged in the learning. Higher levels of engagement will lead to retention of material and consequently higher academic performance in high school and beyond.

In sum, it is laudable that high school graduation rates are improving. But there is still much work to be done to raise the actual academic performance of the students and make sure that a diploma accurately represents a readiness for life beyond high school. -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: Career Readiness,CPE,Graduation rates,High school,NAEP,Public education — Breanna Higgins @ 1:30 pm

December 9, 2015

Some urban districts are ‘choice-friendly.’ So what?

The Fordham Institute today released a ranking of 30 cities according to which ones were the most “friendly” in terms of encouraging and supporting school choice. Topping the list is New Orleans followed by Washington DC and Denver – the only cities to receive an overall grade of B or better.

So what did these cities do to earn these bragging rights? Fordham scored each city on 50 indicators in three domains:

Political support based on interviews with local policymakers and important stakeholders;

Policy environment that, among other things, places no limits on the number of charters, funds them adequately and has quality controls in place; and

Quantity and quality
of choices.

Fordham apparently doesn’t grade on a curve. Almost half of the cities earned Cs and nearly as many got Ds. Albany NY, has the distinction of earning the only F. According to the authors, landing at the bottom of the list means you were deemed “downright hostile” to school choice.

I suppose this is useful information if you are a school choice advocate (Hey, LA: not looking so good with that C-!). But for those who are ambivalent, the ranking omits an important piece of information: how well the city’s schools perform. We’re Americans. Of course we think choice is good. But mostly what parents want are good schools. And being “choice friendly” is no guarantee the choices will be better.

Consider that Charlotte NC and Austin TX are the top-performing urban districts in the nation. Their 2015 NAEP scores in math were not just higher than other participating districts, they were higher than the overall average for the nation as a whole. According to Fordham, neither is a choice-friendly city. Charlotte and Austin respectively ranked 27th and 29th out of the 30 cities in the report. On the other hand, Detroit ranked in the top 10 yet produced the lowest scores in the NAEP urban sample.

This is not to say being “choice friendly” caused low performance. DC, for example, has been one of the highest improving districts in the country on NAEP and was ranked second on Fordham’s list. But it does show that choice for choice sake is not a school improvement strategy. For more evidence see our recent report on school choice.

To its credit, the Fordham Institute advocates for more accountability for student results in the design of choice programs. I also recognize the limitations in the available data. But ranking on “choice friendly” policies doesn’t tell the public what they really need to know: is this helping all students succeed? From what we have found, the promise of school choice has been largely oversold.

Filed under: Charter Schools,NAEP,vouchers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 4:46 pm

October 28, 2015

U.S. Performance Slumps According to National Report Card

U.S. Performance Slumps According to National Report Card

There is simply no way to sugar coat today’s NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading results. They were disappointing to say the least. With the exception of a few states and districts results remained flat or declined across both grades and subjects between 2015 and the last administration in 2013.

Specifically, national math scores declined between 2013 and 2015 at both the 4th and 8th grade levels, while reading scores dipped in 8th grade but remained steady at the 4th grade level. States didn’t fare much better during this time period either. In fact, no state made any significant improvement in 8th grade math while Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Department of Defense schools made modest gains at the 4th grade level. Of the 20 large districts that participated in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015, only Chicago improved over their 2013 results at the 8th grade level. Washington, DC, Miami-Dade, and Dallas improved their performance as well at the 4th grade level while the scores in 7 districts declined.

When it came to reading West Virginia was the lone bright spot at the 8th grade level by being the only state to post gains from 2013 to 2015. In 4th grade reading, 13 states made significant gains topped by Washington, DC (7 points), Louisiana (6 points), Mississippi (6 points), and Oklahoma (5 points) which all made gains of 5 or more points since 2013. Miami-Dade was the only district to post gains at the 8th grade level while Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC made gains in 4th grade. Most districts neither saw improvement nor declines in either 4th or 8th grade.

While this year’s NAEP results are disheartening, one data point does not make a trend. Keep in mind, NAEP scores have steadily increased over the past 25 years. In fact, even with this year’s declines 8th graders still scored 19 points higher in math than 8th graders in 1990 which equates to nearly two years’ worth of learning. Since 2000 8th graders have improved their math performance by 9 points—nearly a year’s worth of learning.  So while scores declined in 2015, it does not necessarily mean our schools are less effective. The results from this and every NAEP release should be based on the larger trend which has shown steady gains over the past decade.

But this also does not mean this year’s NAEP results should be ignored. Researchers, policymakers, and educators should take a deep look at these results as well as other indicators of school quality such as results from state assessments to determine if they provide evidence on whether this year’s NAEP results are an anomaly or the start of a new downward trend. By examining NAEP scores along with other measures of school quality policymakers can make more informed decisions on what is needed to support our public schools.


The Findings


     4th Grade Math

District Level

  • Of the 20 large urban school districts that took part in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015 Washington, DC, Miami-Dade, and Dallas were the only districts to make significant gains.
    • On the other hand, 7 districts saw declines in their average 4th grade mathematics scores since 2013.
  • Charlotte, Hillsborough (FL), and Austin were the highest performing districts, while Detroit, Baltimore City, and Cleveland were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the state level scores increased between 2013 and 2015 in three states/jurisdictions (Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Department of Defense schools). Fifteen states had increased their scores between 2011 and 2013
    • 16 state saw declines in their average 4th grade mathematics score since 2013. No state saw declines between 2011 and 2013.
  • Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while Alabama, New Mexico, and Washington, DC were the lowest performing.

National Level

  • Nationally, scores dropped by 2 points between 2013 and 2015.
    • Student achievement in math has increased by 27 points (2.5 year’s worth of learning) since 1990, the 1st year of NAEP.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level dropped by 2 percentage points between 2013 and 2015 (42 and 40 percent respectively).
    • The proficiency rate has more than tripled since 1990 (13 percent in 1990 vs. 40 percent in 2015).
    • Moreover, the percent of students scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has increased from 17 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2013. In 1990 50 percent of 4th graders scored below the Basic level.


8th Grade Math

District Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 Chicago was the only district to make significant gains.
    • Only Hillsborough (FL) and Houston saw declines during this time period.
  • Just as with 4th grade math, Charlotte, Austin, and Boston were the highest performing districts, while Detroit, Baltimore City, and Cleveland were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the 8th grade level, 22 states saw declines in their scores between 2013 and 2015, while not a single state made statistically significant improvements during this time.
  • Massachusetts continues to post the highest 8th grade math scores, with New Hampshire, Minnesota and New Jersey close behind. Washington, DC, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi scored the lowest.

National Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 national scores fell 3 points for the first time. However, students in 2015 have obtained about two more years’ worth of learning in math than students in 1990.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s Proficient level has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2015. The percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level decreased from 48 percent to 29 during the same time period.

4th Grade Reading


District Level

  • Of the 20 large urban school districts that took part in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015 Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC were the only districts to make significant gains.
    • On the other hand, Baltimore City was the only district that saw declines in their scores during the same time period.
  • Hillsborough (FL), Miami-Dade and Charlotte were the highest scoring districts, while Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore City were the lowest scoring.

State Level

  • At the state level, scores increased between 2013 and 2015 in 13 states/jurisdictions. Only Maryland and Minnesota saw their scores decline during this time period.
  • Five states saw their scores increase by more than 5 points during this time period with Washington, DC leading the way with a 7 point gain followed by Louisiana (6 points), Mississippi (6 points) and Oklahoma (5 points).
  • Massachusetts, Department of Defense schools, and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while New Mexico, Washington, DC, California, and Alaska were the lowest performing.

National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased by 1 point from 2013 and 2015 but the increase was not statistically significant, meaning the increase likely happened by chance.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level increased by 1 percentage point between 2013 and 2015 (35 and 36 percent respectively) but the increase was not statistically significant either.
    • The proficiency rate has increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2015.
    • Moreover, the percent of students scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has decreased from 32 percent in 2013 to 31 percent in 2015. In 1992 38 percent of 4th graders scored below the Basic level.

8th Grade Reading

District Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 Miami-Dade was the only district to make significant gains.
    • Only Hillsborough (FL), Albuquerque and Baltimore City saw declines during this time period.
  • Among the highest performing districts were Charlotte, Austin, Miami-Dade and San Diego, while Detroit, Baltimore City, Cleveland, and Fresno were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the 8th grade level, 8 states saw declines in their scores between 2013 and 2015, while West Virginia was the only state to increase their score during this time.
  • Department of Defense schools posted the highest reading scores, with New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont close behind. On the other hand, Washington, DC, Mississippi, and New Mexico scored the lowest.

National Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 scores fell 3 points bring the overall score back down to the 2011 level of 265 which had been the all-time prior to 2013.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level decreased from 36 to 34 percent between 2013 and 2015. During this same time period the percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level increased from 22 percent to 24 percent.
Filed under: NAEP,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 3:39 pm

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