The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Yawn! Test Scores As Usual

on May 22, 2016

Over the past week I’ve been reading articles about the most recent NAEP test scores . The two major points of interest are whether scores have improved, stayed the same, or declined and the differences between white, Hispanic, and black students.  Although test score patterns appeared to be similar from state to state, the analyses of the causes were varied and highlighted different factors. I came away from all that data and its interpretations confused and unsatisfied. I suspect that like many people my age, I am not good at interpreting data. More significantly, I don’t trust data to give me the answer to the most important question: what can we do about it?

However, before I get into my concerns, let me briefly—and as clearly as possible—report on the factual information I found.

According to the official report on the most recent NAEP results, the national average math scores for 12th graders in 2015 were lower than those in  2013. Student math scores in Grade 4 were higher than those in grades 8 and 12 for both years.

The national average reading scores did not change significantly from 2013 to 2015. Scores were very similar for students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

The official report did not include any explanation of declining scores or the differences from grade to grade. Nevertheless, I have opinions about both. I suspect that scores are declining from grade to grade because older students recognize that the NAEP has no effect on their grades, promotions, or graduation.  When it comes to the decline in math scores from grade to grade, the most likely cause is the greater difficulty in the types of math taught in the upper grades. Compared to arithmetic, which is a part of every day life for everyone, algebra, geometry and calculus are strangers. In addition most 12th graders are no longer taking any math courses and have forgotten at least some of the math they learned before. Reading assignments, on the other hand, are a part of all courses throughout all the grades, and they increase in difficulty.  Twelfth graders are still learning how to read well.

Articles in Education Week and other news sources looked at the NAEP results from a different perspective, focusing on the differences from district to district and between white, black, and Hispanic students. In addition, they included researchers’ opinions on what should be done to reduce the “achievement gap.”

As one might expect, the lowest scores were in high poverty districts, and in those districts there were only small differences between students of different ethnicities. The researchers’ conclusion was that in such districts no one does very well. On the other hand, there were large black-white gaps in wealthy districts. Researchers found this situation disturbing, but concluded that wealthy students were getting more support to do well outside of school and greater pressure from their families. They also saw problems in high poverty schools, where there were fewer resources to support students and lower teacher expectations. The only suggestions for eliminating those problems were to integrate communities and schools more and to provide equal resources for all schools.

After reading all the data, analyses and suggested solutions, I found myself unsatisfied. There was certainly nothing new about identifying the core problem as poverty and all the bad experiences that go with it. But it was clear that nothing is going to happen to change those conditions in the near future. And although I agree that giving schools in high poverty neighborhoods more resurces would help, I am still not convinced it would turn things around for the majority of students. They would still be living in impoverished homes and dangerous neighborhoods and still be steeped in beliefs that they are losers. If there is to be any help for these children it must come from a major change in our society that would include health care, good jobs, decent living conditions, and affordable college education for all Americans.

Do you see any political party or its leaders interested in making those things  happen?



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