Archives for category: NAEP

John Thompson knows that reformers point to the District of Columbia as one of their examples of success. After all, the district has been controlled by Teach for America alumnae Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson since 2007. They own whatever successes and not-successes that occurred over the past eight years. The centerpiece of their claims of success is NAEP scores, which are up.


In this post, Thompson identifies the flaws in the narrative of success. Thompson lauds John Merrow for critiquing the narrative of a district he once held up as an exemplar of successful reform. Merrow asked, in his post, why anyone was celebrating Kaya Henderson’s five-year anniversary in the wake of the disastrous scores on the Common Core PARCC tests, which showed a district where academic performance was dismal.


Thompson reviews the NAEP scores, using Rick Hess’s data.


Hess cites overall gains in NAEP growth under Rhee and Henderson, but those same NAEP studies actually support the common sense conclusion that the numbers reflect gentrification. Hess’s charts show that from 2005 to 2013, the percentage of D.C. students who are low-income dropped from 66% to 61.6%. (In my world, a 61.6% low-income urban school seems danged-near rich.) Per student spending increased by 40% during that time. (The new spending, alone, comes close to the total per student spending in my 90% low-income system.)


According to Hess’s chart, the percentage of the D.C. students who are black dropped by 1/8th from 2005 to 2013, and the percentage of students with disabilities dropped by 1/7th. And, the 2015 NAEP excluded as many as 44% of D.C.’s English Language Learners. The conservative reformer RiShawn Biddle calls that exclusion “massive and unacceptable test-cheating.”


Even so, as Merrow reminds us, the performance gap between low-income and more affluent students has grown even wider; for instance, from 2002 to 2015, the 8th grade reading performance gap grew from 17 to 48 points.


Before Rhee/Henderson, the growth in D.C. test scores was spread much more widely. Because I believe that 8th grade reading is the most important NAEP metric in terms of evaluating school performance, I will cite some of those metrics in support of Merrow. From 1998 to 2002, black 8th grade reading scores increased from an average of 233 to 238. By 2015, they were down to 236. From 1998 to 2002, average 8th grade reading scores for low-income students increased from 229 to 233. In 2015, they remained at 233.


Thompson says it is sad that the elites now re-engineering public education are utterly disconnected from the lives and realities of the children who attend those schools or the people who teach in them. They need a reality check, or maybe a course in sociocultural sensitivity training so that they stop stepping on the faces of children and adults whose lives they know nothing about.



News flash! There is a national test that enables us to compare reading and math scores for every state! It is called NAEP. It reports scores by race, ELLs, poverty, gender, disability status, achievement gaps. This is apparently unknown to the Néw York Times and the Secretary of Education, who has said repeatedly that we need Common Core tests to compare states.

The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, has a story today about Massachusetts’ decision to abandon PARCC, even though its State Commissioner Mitchell Chrster is chairman of the board of PARCC. True or Memorex? Time will tell.

But the story has a serious problem: the opening sentence.

“It has been one of the most stubborn problems in education: With 50 states, 50 standards and 50 tests, how could anyone really know what American students were learning, or how well?”

Later the story has this sentence:

“The state’s rejection of that test sounded the bell on common assessments, signaling that the future will now look much like the past — with more tests, but almost no ability to compare the difference between one state and another.”

What happened to the National Assessment of Educational Progress? It has been comparing all the states and D.C., as well as many cities, since 1992. Has no one at the New York Times ever heard of NAEP?

Dear Marc,

I read your latest post about NAEP scores in which you say you are taking a long view. You dismiss the disappointing results of the 2015 NAEP, which showed almost no gains and some declines. You choose instead to look at the Long-Term Trend NAEP, which has been asking identical questions since 1973. You point out that 17-year-old scores are flat since the early 1970s, which persuades you that we are in big trouble.

For readers, let me explain that there are two different versions of NAEP. The one that was recently reported is called “Main NAEP.” Its curriculum framework is updated every seven to 10 years, and the content changes. Main NAEP is offered in every state every other year, in reading and mathematics. It also periodically tests other subjects, such as history, civics, and science. It gives data for individual states for students in fourth and eighth grades, enabling anyone to compare performance from state to state. It also reports on achievement gaps among students who are white and black, white and Hispanic.

Then there is the “Long-Term Trend” NAEP. It is offered every four years. The reading LTT started in 1971, the math in 1973. Unlike Main NAEP, the content almost never changes, although items that are obsolete are deleted (the one deleted item I recall from my time on the governing board of NAEP was about S&H Green Stamps). It breaks out scores by race and gender.

Marc, you note the impressive progress made by students at ages 9 and 13, especially black and Hispanic students. But you then go on to say that at the current rate of improvement, 80% of students would not reach “proficient” for many decades, perhaps more than a century. I have to disagree with you here, because setting NAEP proficient as a goal is as unrealistic as the NCLB mandate that 100% of American students would be proficient by 2014. NAEP proficient is a very high standard; it represents a very high level of achievement. NAEP started measuring state performance in 1992, and 23 years later, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation where as many as 50% of students have reached NAEP proficient. Why set an impossible goal?

It is true that the scores for 17-year-old students have barely moved, but not for the reasons you cite. It is not that students get dumb as they reach senior year, but that they don’t give a hoot about a test that means nothing to them. When I was on the NAEP governing board, we devoted an entire meeting to discussing the problem of motivation for students at age 17 or senior year. Seniors doodled or made patterns on the answer sheets. They didn’t care what their score was because they knew the test didn’t matter. It didn’t affect their grades; it didn’t affect their college prospects. They would never find out how they did. For them, it was a meaningless exercise. The board considered ways to motivate them. Suppose we offered a pizza party to encourage students to care? Suppose we offered cash prizes? We could not agree on a solution to the problem of motivating high school seniors to take seriously a test that didn’t count.

And that is why I am not surprised or alarmed by the test scores of 17-year-old students on a test that they know doesn’t matter to them.

Carol Burris carefully reviewed the NAEP scores. Listen to her interview on public radio. Unlike many commentators, she has the advantage of being an experienced educator and is also executive director of the Network for Public Education.

The passing marks (cut scores) on the Smarter Balanced Assessment were set last November. They were set in such a way that most students were certain to “fail.” The SBAC predicted that most students would fail. The executive director, Joe Wilhoit, quoted in the article below, predicted that “over time, the performance of students will improve.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. It is a dirty trick to play on students. The cut scores are close to the “proficient” achievement level in NAEP. In twenty-three years of testing the states, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation in which 50% of students reached the proficient level. That indicates that it will be many years–if ever–until half of the students are able to reach these absurdly high cut scores. If they are used for promotion and graduation in the future, most students will not be promoted and will not graduate.

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week wrote:

In a move likely to cause political and academic stress in many states, a consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test has four achievement categories. Students must score at Level 3 or higher to be considered proficient in the skills and knowledge for their grades. According to cut scores approved Friday night by the 22-state consortium, 41 percent of 11th graders will show proficiency in English/language arts, and 33 percent will do so in math. In elementary and middle school, 38 percent to 44 percent will meet the proficiency mark in English/language arts, and 32 percent to 39 percent will do so in math.
Level 4, the highest level of the 11th grade Smarter Balanced test, is meant to indicate readiness for entry-level, credit-bearing courses in college, and comes with an exemption from remedial coursework at many universities. Eleven percent of students would qualify for those exemptions.
The establishment of cut scores, known in the measurement field as “standard-setting,” marks one of the biggest milestones in the four-year-long project to design tests for the common standards. It is also the most flammable, since a central tenet of the initiative has been to ratchet up academic expectations to ensure that students are ready for college or good jobs. States that adopted the common core have anticipated tougher tests, but the new cut scores convert that abstract concern into something more concrete.

Smarter Balanced is one of two main state consortia that are using $360 million in federal funds to develop common-core tests. The other group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is waiting until next summer—after the tests are administered—to decide on its cut scores. Smarter Balanced officials emphasized that the figures released Monday are estimates, and that states would have “a much clearer picture” of student performance after the operational test is given in the spring.

Emmanuel Felton and Sarah Butrymowicz write in the Hechinger Report that students in New York have shown little progress in three years of Common Core teaching and testing. Experts warn that three years may be too short a time line to reach a judgment. Nonetheless, the widening achievement gaps are cause for concern. According to the conventional wisdom, the writers say, scores were supposed to rise as teachers and students became accustomed to the new standards. The reality is different.

Three years into the transition to harder tests, scores across the board have remained low and largely stagnant.
Thirty percent of all fifth-graders passed the English exam, for instance – while just 7 percent of special education students did. In math, 43 percent of all fifth-graders were proficient, but only a quarter of black students were….

The past three years of testing have been rough for New York. Complaints began right away in 2013 when the state switched to the new exam and continued when the scores showed proficiency rates had dropped roughly 24 percentage points in English and 34 percentage points in math. In the subsequent two years, criticism grew – over the stakes attached to the exams, the tests themselves and the standards. A robust “opt-out” movement led by disaffected parents and supported in part by teachers resulted in 20 percent of New York students not taking the exams, up from 5 percent the previous year….

And scores have not improved much in the three years. A Hechinger Report analysis found that English scores were essentially stagnant across the state and math scores went up slightly. White and Asian students, however, drove this increase, while the gulf between black and Latino students and their peers has widened.
In 2013, for example, 30 percent of fifth-graders passed the state math exam. This year, when the vast majority of those students were in seventh grade, 35 percent of seventh-graders passed the test. But while white students went from 36 to 46 percent proficiency, black students only increased from 15 to 17 percent and Hispanic students from 18 to 20 percent…

In addition to looking a lot like last year’s results, these scores also match New York’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, which is considered the gold standard for student exams.

But the alignment with NAEP is precisely the problem. The state exams now consider “NAEP Proficient” to be a “passing mark.” This is utterly absurd. NAEP Proficient was never intended to be a passing mark, nor is it “grade level.” NAEP Proficient represents a high level of achievement. No state has seen as many as 50% of its students reach NAEP Proficient except for Massachusetts. As long as the states continue to use tests whose “cut scores” are aligned with NAEP, a majority of students will be considered “failures.” This is not sustainable. Think of the consequences of failing most students year after year.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been measuring national samples of students in grades 4 and 8 (and sometimes 12) since the early 1970s. It has been measuring state samples since 1992, and began assessing a few urban districts in 2003. It assesses students every two years in reading and math, and every several years in history, science, civics, and other subjects.


NAEP has always collected background information, which is self-reported about students’ reading habits, television viewing time, teacher practices, and other quantifiable aspects of tea hing and learning.


Now, NAEP will add grit, motivation, and mindset to the background information collected.


It will be interesting to see how these noncognitive traits are measured. Will students judge their own grit? Are they good judges of their grit? Will we someday know which states and cities have students with the most grit? And once we know, will officials create courses in how to improve grit?


I am reminded of a strange finding that emerged from international background questions two decades ago. Students were asked if they were good in math. Students in nations with the highest test scores said they were not very good in math; students in nations where test scores were middling thought they were really good at math.


What does it all mean? I don’t know, but it satisfies someone’s need for more data.

Peter Greene reports on the latest declaration that the sky is falling, released by the Foundation for Educational Excellence. FEE was established by Jeb Bush to push the Florida Miracle, digital learning, vouchers, charters, and high-stakes testing. When Jeb! decided to run for President, he stepped down and Condoleeza Rice took his place. She has been quiet, perhaps because she is learning the ropes about education. While Condi is studying up, Jeb!s righthand woman, Patricia Levesque wrote this latest blast at America’s terrible schools.

Quite frankly, I wonder why everyone swallows the latest alarm. We are,after all, the most powerful nation on earth. If our schools are so awful, how did we achieve economic, military, and cultural success? Sure, we have problems, big problems, especially segregation and poverty. But that is never what reformsters worry about. They work on the assumption that if they could get the right standards and the right tests, poverty would disappear.

FEE has discovered an earth-shattering crisis: the “Proficiency Gap.” It seems that NAEP has a higher standard for proficiency than almost every state. This is not a new finding. I think it has been written about many times. The NAEP “proficiency” standard is very high; it represents a very high level of performance on the NAEP tests. States, which must be concerned about getting kids through high school, do not set as high a standard as NAEP. NAEP proficiency was never meant to be a goal that all or almost all students could reach. No matter how high your expectations, some kids will not do as well as others. Not all will achieve A-level performance.

Greene’s complaint is that FEE never defines what proficiency is or how it should be measured. FEE seems to assume that a score on tests of reading and math are all that is needed to predict whether students are ready for college and careers. Peter has too much experience to accept that claim, especially when it comes from privatization advocates with no classroom experience.

Greene asks:

Is there a proficiency gap?

Between what and what? If the assertion is that we have a gap between the results of one lousy standardized test and another different lousy standardized test, then, yeah, I guess so, but so what? If the gap is between what we tell students they can accomplish and what they actually are able to accomplish– well, where’s the evidence? Oh, I know what reformsters believe– that all the poverty in the country is the result of students who couldn’t score high enough on a standardized test. This strikes me as highly unlikely, though I get that there are many possible explanations for and solutions to widespread poverty. But if we’ve had the most terrible education system in the world, and we should fear that because it will lead to failure and collapse, I just feel as if the country isn’t doing as badly as all these chicken littling privatizers want to say, and where I do see failure, I see problems of racism and systemic barriers to class mobility. Oddly enough, race and poverty do not appear as issues on the proficiency gap site.

So if FEE is declaring that states need to do more about closing the resource gap and the opportunity gap and the stupid racist barriers gap, that would be swell. But I’ve read enough FEE materials to suspect that they’re chicken littling in one more act of “There’s a terrible emergency, so you must do as we say!!” The Honesty Gap folks wanted us all to buy more PARCC and SBA tests, and Common Core harder, as well as handing over more public schools to private interests. Oh, and stop opting out. This seems like more of the same old stuff aimed primarily at helping privatizers close their revenue gaps.

One of the most annoying features of the Common Core standards is its mandate imposing set percentages of fiction and informational text. I know of no other national educational standards that impose such a rigid division. This mandate is absurd. It should be eliminated.


The New York Times reports on the controversy here in typical Times style, quoting some who say they like the new approach while others say they don’t like it at all.


“The new standards stipulate that in elementary and middle school, at least half of what students read during the day should be nonfiction, and by 12th grade, the share should be 70 percent.”


Where did these numbers come from? Not research. They happen to be the same as the instructions to assessment developers for the federal test called NAEP. NAEP wanted a mix of fiction and informational text. They were not concocted as guidelines for teachers. Yet the CCSS project adopted them as a national mandate, with no evidence. Is there evidence that students who read more nonfiction than literature are better prepared for colleges and careers? No. There is none. None.


There is absolutely no valid justification for this mandate. When it was challenged five years ago as a threat to the teaching of literature, the authors of the CC said there was a misunderstanding. They said the proportions were written for the entire curriculum, not just for English classes, so the nonfiction in math, science, and other classes would leave English teachers free to teach literature, as usual. This was silly. How many classes in math, science, civics, and history were reading fiction? Clearly the goal was to force English teachers to teach nonfiction, on the assumption that fiction does not prepare you to be “college and career ready.”


And as the article shows, English teachers are taking the mandate seriously. Frankly, every English teacher should be free to decide what to teach. If he or she loves teaching literature, that’s her choice. If she loves teaching documents, essays, biographies, and other nonfiction, that’s her choice.


Or should be.


Now, read Peter Greene’s dissection of this article. He is outraged by the writer’s bland acceptance of Common Core’s nonsensical demands on English teachers, as well as the assumption that English teachers never taught non-fiction in the past. They did and do.


He lists the elements of the article that are infuriating. Here is one:


Taylor does not know where the informational text requirement came from.


Taylor notes that “the new standards stipulate” that a certain percentage (50 for elementary, 70 for high school) of a student’s daily reading diet should be informational. And that’s as deep as she digs.


But why is the informational requirement in the Common Core in the first place? There’s only one reason– because David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. All these years later, and not one shred of evidence, one scrap of research, not a solitary other nation that has used such a requirement to good results— there isn’t anything at all to back up the inclusion of the informational reading requirement in the standards except that David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. Coleman, I will remind you, is not a teacher, not an educator, not a person with one iota of expertise in teaching and is, in fact, proud of his lack of qualifications. In fact, Coleman has shared with us his thoughts about how to teach literature, and they are — not good. If Coleman were student teaching in my classroom, I would be sending him back to the drawing board (or letting him try his ideas out so that we could have a post-crash-and-burn “How could we do better” session).


Coleman has pulled off one of the greatest cons ever. If a random guy walked in off the street into your district office and said, “Hey, I want to rewrite some big chunks of your curriculum just because,” he would be justly ignored. But Coleman has managed to walk in off the street and force every American school district pay attention to him.


Here is another:


Taylor uses a quote to both pay lip service to and also to dismiss concerns about curricular cuts.


“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”


So, you see, we really only use literature in the classroom as a sort of bucket to carry in little nuggets of concept and skill. The literature doesn’t really have any intrinsic value of its own. Why read the whole novel when we only really care about (aka test) a couple of paragraphs on page 142? If we were hoping to pick up some metaphor-reading skills along the way, why not just read a page of metaphor examples?


This is an attitude of such staggering ignorance and numbskullery that I hardly know how to address it. This is like saying, “Why bother with getting to know someone and dating and talking to each other and listening to each other and spending months just doing things together and sharing hopes and dreams and finally deciding to commit your lives to each other and planning a life together and then after all that finally sleeping together– why do all that when you could just hire a fifty-dollar hooker and skid straight to the sex?” It so completely misses the point, and if neither Taylor nor Skillen can see how it misses the point, I’m not even sure where to begin.


Literature creates a complex web of relationships, relationships between the reader and the author, between the various parts of the text, between the writing techniques and the meaning.


You don’t get the literature without reading the whole thing. The “we’ll just read the critical part of the work” school of teaching belongs right up there with a “Just the last five minutes” film festival. Heck, as long as you see the sled go into the furnace or the death star blow up or Kevin Spacey lose the limp, you don’t really need the rest of the film for anything, right?


And here is the truly outrageous change that Common Core is imposing on English classrooms across the nation: No need to read the whole novel or the whole play. Just read little chunks to get ready for the test. That is an outrage.

Peter Greene read a post that Checker Finn wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog, in which Checker warned parents to be ready for the unpleasant news they would learn about their children’s failure when the Common Core tests results are reported. Peter did not agree with Checker because he thinks the tests are dumb, not the kids. Peter can’t understand why a “conservative” would want the federal government to take control of what all students in the nation ought to learn. He writes: Aren’t Fordham guys like Finn supposed to be conservatives? When did conservatives start saying, “The government should decide what a person is supposed to be like, telling people when they aren’t measuring up to government standards, and using government pressure to try to make them be the way the government says they should be.”


I am sort of in a tough spot here because Checker was my closest friend for many years. We worked together at the Educational Excellence Network, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), the Koret Foundation at the Hoover Institution, and we shared many family events. However, when I turned against testing, choice, accountability, charters, and vouchers, our friendship did not survive. I am still fond of Checker, his wife Renu, and his children, but we don’t agree anymore about things we both care about, and we both understand that. I lost a very close friend when I changed my world views, and I am sad about that. But, I had no choice. Knowing Checker, he would do the same. But he didn’t.


I know that Checker has a low opinion of American students and teachers. He went to Exeter and Harvard, and very few meet his high expectations. When he was chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, he led the creation of the achievement levels so the American public would see just how ill-educated their children were. The established NAEP scale was a proficiency scale from 0-500. Checker thought that the public did not derive a sufficient sense of urgency because they did not understand what it meant to be 350 or 425 on a scale of 500. What they would understand, he thought (correctly), was proficiency levels: basic, proficient, advanced (and, of course, the worst, below basic). He wanted the public to be duly alarmed at the sad state of education. Congress recognized that there is an arbitrary quality to proficiency levels; they still considered them to be “trials.” Experts disagree about how to set them and what they mean. Ultimately, the NAEP levels are set by panels of people from different walks of life who make judgment calls about what they think students in fourth grade and eighth grade ought to know. This is not science, this is human judgment.


Unfortunately, the public didn’t listen to the periodic alarums from NAEP and NAGB. The reports came out, and they didn’t get much attention. But after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation went into full-blown crisis mode about the state of education, and a hungry industry grew up to tutor, remediate, and school the students who didn’t pass their state tests. Then the charter industry emerged, and the henny-penny-sky-is-falling movement saw that the way to create a demand for charters and vouchers was to generate a steady narrative of “our schools in crisis.” Suddenly the regular NAEP reports were headline news. Suddenly the public became aware of the number of students who were “not proficient,” even though proficient was a very high bar indeed.


Now we have Common Core, more rigorous than any of the other standards, and Common Core tests, designed to find 70% of American kids falling short of the standards.


This is where Checker comes in again, to warn parents that their children will surely fail. Imagine this: the most powerful nation in the world, with the most advanced technology, the most influential culture, the biggest economy, yet somehow the schools that educated 90% of Americans are terrible. How can this be?


Peter Greene steps in now to take Checker on.


Read the whole thing, but here is the windup:


Finn’s basic complaint is that parents aren’t being forced to understand the Hard Truth that BS Tests prove that their children are dopes, and that said parents should be alarmed and upset. The Hard Truth that Finn doesn’t face is that the PARCC and SBA provide little-to-no useful information, and that parents are far more likely to turn to trusted teachers and their own intimate knowledge of their own children than to what seems to be an unfair, irrational, untested, unvalidated system.


Yes, some parents have trouble facing some truths about their own children. There can’t be a classroom teacher in the country that hasn’t seen that in action, and it can be sad. I’m not so sure that it’s sadder, however, than a parent who believes that his child is a stupid, useless loser. Finn seems really invested in making that parents hear bad news about their kids; I’m genuinely curious about what he envisions happening next. A parent pulls the small child up into a warm embrace to say, “You know, you’re not that great.” A parent makes use of a rare peaceful evening at home with a teenager to say, “I wish your test results didn’t suck so badly. Would you please suck less?” What exactly is the end game of this enforced parental eye opening?


Okay, I can guess, given the proclivities of the market-based reformster crowd. What happens next is that the parents express shock that Pat is so far off the college and career ready trail and quickly pulls Pat out of that sucky public school to attend a great charter school with super-duper test scores. The market-driven reform crowd wants to see an open education market driven by pure data– not the fuzzy warm love-addled parental data that come from a lifetime of knowing and loving their flesh and blood intimately, and not even the kind of chirpy happy-talk data that come from teachers who have invested a year in working with that child, but in the cold, hard deeply true data that can come from an efficient, number-generating standardized test. That’s what should drive the market.


Alas, no such data exists. No test can measure everything, or even anything, that matters in a child and in the child’s education. No test can measure the deep and wide constellation of capabilities that we barely cover under headings like “character” or “critical thinking.”


Folks like Finn try hard to believe that such magical data-finding tests can exist. They are reluctant to face the Hard Truth that they are looking for centaur-operated unicorn farms. The unfortunate truth is that they have dragged the rest of the country on this fruitless hunt with them.


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