Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What We Learned From The Latest Release Of National Standardized Test Scores

    For all of the sweeping changes to education policy — in Indiana and in the U.S. — in the past decade, the latest release of national standardized test scores shows more of the same:

    Roughly one-third of American fourth and eighth graders were deemed “proficient” in math and reading. More than half earned lesser ratings.

    The ratings come from the National Assessment of Education Progress exam, whose results came out Tuesday. The NAEP, administered every two years to more than 400,000 fourth graders and more than 300,000 eighth graders, is considered the nation’s benchmark standardized test.

    Indiana’s scores showed little overall change. On the test’s 500-point scoring scale, none of Indiana’s average scores on any of the four exams in 2011 — fourth- and eighth grade reading, fourth- and eighth grade math — was more than 2 points different from the 2009 average.

    The ratings Indiana students earned in math have shown more marked improvement since 2000. In 2000, 70 percent of Indiana fourth graders earned ratings below proficient — “Below Basic” or “Basic“.  In 2011, that number shrunk to 55 percent.

    But Indiana’s overall ratings in fourth- and eighth grade reading have not changed since much since 2002.

    So what are we to make of the scores?

    Kevin Carey, executive director of non-partisan think tank Education Sector, writes the results contradict the most dire of predictions about the trajectory of education policy:

    These scores certainly contradict the more apocalyptic language out there, that standards and tests have ruined American public education, driven the best teachers out of the classroom, etc., etc. There’s simply no evidence here to support that. At the same time, it’s abundantly clear that NCLB did not create an inflection point of accelerating improvement. That said, we should never take improvement for granted. Helping more students learn isn’t like rolling a ball along a flat surface, where the key is to get momentum going that then mostly sustains itself. It’s a lot more like climbing a mountain, where every increase in elevation is hard-won and the task gets more arduous the higher you go.

    Mike Petrilli of the pro-charter, pro-voucher Fordham Institute says many of the big changes in education policy aren’t likely to have a big effect on student achievement. So what will bring about a “significant bump” in test scores?

    More focused instructional and teacher quality strategies–like implementing the Common Core standards or improving teaching through better evaluation systems–are more likely to result in big gains, it seems to me. Neither of those will be in full force until around 2013 or 2014. So I would expect more steady-state on NAEP scores for the time being, with our next big chance for major gains coming in 2015.

    UPDATE: Education policy reporter Dana Goldstein also weighs in, offering this sobering assessment.


    About StateImpact

    StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
    Learn More »