Archives for category: NAEP

After four years of Governor Chris Christie, we are used to loud complaints about how terrible New Jersey’s schools are, how poorly they perform compared to Tennessee (Arne Duncan’s favorite), how expensive they are, how large the achievement gaps are.

Bruce Baker shows that none of this is true: New Jersey’s schools perform very well indeed, and they exceed expectations.

Baker documents what he says and concludes:

“To summarize:

“NJ schools do better than expected on NAEP given statewide poverty rates, ranking among the highest states.

“NJ schools have gained more on NAEP than nearly all other states (when correcting for starting point)

“NJ’s 8th grade achievement gaps are relatively average (when correcting for income gaps). The only NJ achievement gap that is greater than average is grade 8 reading.

“NJ’s 4th grade achievement gaps are among the smallest among states (when correcting for income gaps)

“So congratulations, NJ… you’re doin’ pretty well. That’s not to say by any stretch of the imagination that we should be complacent. We’ve still got Massachusetts to catch up to in most cases. They, not Tennessee or Louisiana are giving us a run for our money. And as I pointed out in my most recent post, we need to give serious consideration to reinvesting in our neediest communities. Prior investments (including early childhood programs) may provide partial explanation for why our fourth grade achievement gaps are so relatively small. But we’ve backed off substantially on funding fairness in recent years, the consequences of which are yet to be measured.”

Someone sent me this clip from Tennessee, where Arne Duncan was trying to salvage the federally-funded online Common Core test called PARCC.

“DUNCAN: TENNESSEE CAN STILL SALVAGE TESTS: At Brick Church College Prep in Nashville, Tenn., Education Secretary Arne Duncan showered the state with praise for becoming the fastest improving state in the country. But it still has a long way to go, he said after a town hall event [ ] with state chief Kevin Huffman. The legislature delayed Common Core-aligned PARCC tests for a year, but Tennessee has time for a fix, he said. “I think that having high standards is really important,” Duncan said. “Having an honest way to measure that you’re hitting those high standards and to have transparency across the country. So if all you’re able to do is measure Tennessee students against Tennessee students and not have any sense of how you’re doing versus Massachusetts or Kentucky or Mississippi, I think that misses the point. I think the state still has a chance to do the right thing going forward.”

Question: has Secretary of Education Duncan heard about the federally-funded National Assessment of Educational Progress? Since 1992, it has been measuring academic progress in the states. Using NAEP, it is possible to compare students in Tennessee to students in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Mississippi, and other states. Instead of testing every single student, it tests scientific samples in every state and nationally. It has no stakes attached. Isn’t that as much testing as we need to compare states?

A brilliant post by G.F. Brandenburg about NAEP scores.

Shows how little has been gained by the Bush-Obama demolition derby of testing, closing schools, firing teachers and principals, opening charters.

It is all a mighty failure that has not improved test scores or education


This NPR report summarizes the 12th grade NAEP report: Scores for high school seniors are flat. Reading scores in 2013 were lower than in 1992.


While there were small gains for each racial and ethnic group since 2005, there were no gains at all since 2009, when Race to the Top was initiated.


Achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups remain wide.


Secretary of Education gnashed his teeth and said the results were troubling, and he is right. The chair of the National Assessment Governing Board said the results were unacceptable, and he is right.


In mathematics, the states that made the biggest gains in proficient students were: South Dakota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Only one of these–Massachusetts–won a Race to the Top award.


Also in mathematics, the states that had a lower percentage of proficient students than the rest of the nation were: Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Florida. Two of the lowest performing states won Race to the Top awards: Tennessee and Florida.


In reading, the states that outperformed the nation were Idaho, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Dakota. Only one of these states–Massachusetts–won a Race to the Top award.


Also in reading, the states that had the lowest percentage of proficient students were: Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia. Tennessee won a Race to the Top award.


These twelfth graders started school about the time that No Child Left Behind was signed into law, on january 8, 2002. Their entire school lives has been dominated by testing. The survival of their school depended on their test scores. Billions and billions of dollars have been diverted from classroom instruction to testing corporations. Many districts have increased class sizes and reduced services to students. Some leave closed libraries and laid off librarian, social workers, counselors, and psychologists. Many thousands of teachers have lost their job. But the testing industry has grown to be a multi-billion dollar enterprise, fattened by NCLB and RTTT.


Secretary Duncan is right. This is indeed troubling. It is time to change course. The policies of the Bush-Obama era have failed.



FairTest comments on today’s release of 12th grade NAEP scores. Their conclusion: a dozen years of test-based accountability has had no discernible effect on the test scores of seniors.

This accords with the 2010 report of the National Research Council, which released a report saying that incentives and test-based accountability are ineffective.

Although I have never put much stock in 12th grade NAEP results, due to lack of student motivation on a test that doesn’t count, there ought to be some residual effects of 12 years of testing, testing, testing.



National Center for Fair & Open Testing

for further information:
Bob Schaeffer: (239) 395-6773
mobile: (239) 699-0468
for immediate release May 7, 2014

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for twelfth graders “underscore the failure of federal and state test-driven school policies,” according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Today’s report shows no NAEP score improvement for high school seniors in reading or math since 2009 and little progress over the past decade. Over the same period, performance gaps between racial groups have not narrowed significantly.
The NAEP trend is consistent with results from the ACT and SAT college admissions tests, where average scores continue to stagnate and racial gaps persist.
“How much more evidence do federal and state policy-makers need that driving schooling through standardized exams does not increase educational quality?” asked FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “It is time to abandon failed test-and-punish policies and adopt assessments that have been shown to improve teaching and learning.”
Schaeffer continued, “Across the country parents, teachers, students, and community activists are saying ‘enough is enough’ to testing misuse and overuse. They are opting out of tests, organizing protests against high-stakes exam overkill, and successfully pressing politicians to overhaul assessment policies. More elected officials must start listening to their constituents, who know what is going on in public school classrooms.” FairTest is a founder of the national Testing Resistance & Reform Spring campaign.

Professor Jack Hassard of Georgia State University concludes, after reviewing Tom Loveless’s report for Brookings, that the Common Core Standards have had little or no effect on NAEP math scores, as Loveles predicted a few years ago.


The states most aligned with CCSS had the smallest gains.


Overall, eighth grade math scores show very little improvement since the Common Core was rolled out in 2010.


He writes:


Between 1990 – 2013 there was a 22 point increase in 8th grade math. Over the 23 years this amounts to about a 1 point increase per year. However, the average score increase from 2009 – 2013, the years the Common Core has been used, has only increased 0.30 points per year, much less than before the roll out of the Common Core.


Well, four years is too soon to see the radical improvements that Bill Gates and others have promised. Maybe we will have to wait a full decade to know whether the billions spent on CCSS were well spent.



Did you know that the National Assessment Of Educational Progress used to test much more than reading and math, much more than academic subjects? Did you know that it was designed originally to assess student cooperation and behavior as well as skills? Did you know that the narrowing of NAEP testing is fairly recent?

Richard Rothstein knows what NAEP was supposed to be and he explained its history to the governing board of NAEP on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.

He wrote:

“Education policy in both the Bush and Obama administrations has suffered from failure to acknowledge a critical principle of performance evaluation in all fields, public and private—if an institution has multiple goals but is held accountable only for some, its agents, acting rationally, will increase attention paid to goals for which they are evaluated, and diminish attention to those, perhaps equally important, for which they are not evaluated.

“When law and policy hold schools accountable primarily for their students’ math and reading test scores, educators inevitably, and rationally, devote less instructional resources to history, the sciences, the arts and music, citizenship, physical and emotional health, social skills, a work ethic and other curricular areas.

“Over the last decade, racial minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students have suffered the most from this curricular narrowing. As those with the lowest math and reading scores, theirs are the teachers and schools who are under the most pressure to devote greater time to test prep, and less to the other subjects of a balanced instructional program.

“One way the federal government promotes this distortion is through its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an assessment administered biennially in every state, but only in math and reading. Government officials spend considerable effort publicizing the results. They call NAEP “The Nation’s Report Card,” but no parent would be satisfied with so partial and limited a report card for his or her child.

“Twenty-five years ago, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) to create NAEP policy. At NAGB’s conference today celebrating its silver anniversary, Rebecca Jacobsen and I describe (in a presentation drawn from our book with Tamara Wilder, Grading Education. Getting Accountability Right) how NAGB’s disproportionate attention to math and reading was not intended when NAEP was first administered in the early 1970s.

“In those early years, NAEP attempted to assess any goal area for which schools devote, in the words of NAEP’s designers, “15-20% of their time…, [the] less tangible areas, as well as the customary areas, in a fashion the public can grasp and understand.”

“For example, to see whether students were learning to cooperate, NAEP sent trained observers to present a game to 9-year-olds in sampled schools. In teams of four, the 9-year-olds were offered a prize to guess what was hidden in a box. Teams competed to see which, by asking questions, could identify the toy first. Team members had to agree on which questions to ask, and the role of posing questions was rotated. Trained NAEP observers rated the 9-year-olds on their skills in cooperative problem-solving and NAEP then reported on the percentage who were capable of it.

“NAEP assessors also evaluated cooperative skills of 13- and 17-year-olds. Assessors presented groups of eight students with a list of issues about which teenagers typically had strong opinions. Students were asked to reach consensus on the five most important and then write recommendations on how to resolve two of them. The list included, for 13-year-olds, such issues as whether they should have a curfew for going to bed, and for 17-year-olds, eligibility minimums for voting, drinking, and smoking. NAEP observers rated skills such as whether students gave reasons for their points of view and defended a group member’s right to hold a contrary viewpoint.”

For the full presentation, written with Rebecca Jacobsen, read this.

Late last night, I posted a commentary that connected two seemingly unrelated communications. One was an article in Slate by psychologist Laurence Steinberg, saying that our high schools are not rigorous enough, our seniors are not learning enough, and bemoaning both kids and schools. It happened to arrive about the same time as a letter in my inbox from a teacher in upstate Néw York.

I pointed out that when I was a member of the NAEP governing board (NAGB), we devoted an entire meeting to discussing the well-known problem of seniors not caring about NAEP scores. They know that NAEP counts for nothing, and many turned in blanks or doodled or made silly patterned guesses to show their disdain for being asked to take yet another test of no significance.

When Steinberg saw my post,he tweeted (I paraphrase): when given a choice between anecdote and data, I choose data.

I responded that Mark Twain said there were lies, damn lies, and statistics.

The serious answer is that before one uses data to condemn or judge people, one should evaluate the quality of the data. In this case, I can testify as a fact that the governing board studied the 12th graders’ lack of motivation to comply. We thought about offering cash or pizza parties for agreeing to take the test seriously. No one had a good answer. The data are not reliable.

Maybe the Puritans started the tradition of saying that the younger generation is going to hell. Why can’t we ever stop wailing about the kids? Whatever they are, they reflect the society they were born into. I expect great things from them, despite the obstacles we older folks place before them, despite our dysfunctional politics, despite adults’ misguided priorities, despite all the bad educational policies our kids must overcome.

At the time I wrote last night, little did I know that the teacher and the professor graduated from the same college and had long ago had a similar exchange.

The teacher wrote this morning:

“Thanks to Diane for posting my original letter and for working so hard on behalf of teachers and our students.

“I turned on the computer this morning to look for my letter and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw my name mentioned alongside a reference to Dr. Laurence Steinberg. You see, Dr. Steinberg and I exchanged a number of letters many years ago about an op-ed piece he had written in the Times. I’d used his piece in my classes back in the early 1990s and my students took great issue with it. They were, to put it nicely, mad as hell at Larry.

“[Dr. Steinberg….. can I call you Larry? The fact that I’ve bumped into you again this way in the middle of the internet after all these years is just a little weird, isn’t it? We ought to get together someday. I’ll buy you a coffee. Hell, I’ll even pay for your lunch. We both graduated from Vassar College so we can talk about the beautiful campus there when we need a break from arguing about education.]

“Suffice to say, that if I had to re-do my correspondence with Larry again there’s definitely things I would do differently. And, I’d like to think that Larry might feel the same way.

“But, Larry, Diane couldn’t be more right. Many of these tests are bogus. And, the kids know it. They’re certainly smart enough not to waste their time, especially considering the fact that we all seem to have so much less of that time nowadays.

“I’m so tired of hearing the same old cliche, “Kids today….blah, blah, blah….” After teaching in a high school for 26 years, I can say that these “kids today” are much more serious and hardworking than my own classmates back in the 1970s. They have to be. We’ve given them no choice.

-John Ogozalek”

Something magical is happening in San Diego. It is a good school district. Teachers and administrators and the school board are working towards common goals.

San Diego, in my view, is the best urban district in the nation.

I say this not based on test scores but on the climate for teaching and learning that I have observed in San Diego.

It’s not the weather, which of course is usually magnificent. Los Angeles too has great weather but it is constantly embroiled in turmoil, with teachers against administrators, the school board divided, and political tensions underlying every decision and policy.

San Diego went through its time of troubles in the late 1990s and early 2000s (I wrote about it in my next to last book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which I devoted a chapter to the upheaval in San Diego, where corporate-style, top-down reform was birthed).

But in recent years, San Diego has elected a school board that works harmoniously with the teachers and their union. Until recently, it had a superintendent, Bill Kowba (a retired Navy admiral) who understood the value of teamwork. And with the leadership of an activist board, a new spirit of community-based reform began to take hold.

Scores went up on almost everything that was tested, but that was not what mattered most to the new (and true) reformers in San Diego. The rising test scores were the result of the new spirit of community-building that included parents, students, teachers, administrators, and the local community.

San Diego, of course, rejected Race to the Top funding. It didn’t want to make test scores more consequential than they already were.

When Superintendent Kowba retired, the San Diego school board met and immediately announced their choice of a new superintendent, without conducting a national search. The board asked Cindy Marten, one of the district’s best elementary school principals, to assume the superintendency. She was stunned, and she chastised them for not casting a wider net. But she took the job.

Cindy is a leader. She knows how to inspire and lead. She respects the work of principals and teachers, and they respect her. She also knows the importance of parent and community engagement.

Her motto, which is a playful twist on the KIPP motto is: “Work Hard. Be Kind. Dream Big! No Excuses.”

No matter how sunny the skies for the schools, no matter how harmonious the educators, parents, and children, the business community is grumpy. It can’t get over the fact that San Diego doesn’t have a brash, disruptive superintendent who wants to test the kids until they cry “uncle,” demean the teachers, and hold everyone’s feet to the fire. It can’t accept that there is any other way to lead the schools. And it can’t give up on its favorite meme that the schools are “failing” even though they are not.

These views were expressed full force recently when the San Diego Union Tribune, a deeply conservative newspaper, penned an editorial longing for the good old days when Terry Grier was superintendent. The UT can’t believe that San Diego let him go, let him move to Houston, where he is following the corporate reform script, handing out bonuses, firing teachers, using test scores as a club to beat up teachers. Talk about being a skunk at the garden party! The UT published an editorial lamenting “what might have been” if only Grier had stayed around in San Diego to do what he is doing now in Houston.

There was pushback. One board member wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that the dropout rate in Houston was nearly double the dropout rate in San Diego and commending Cindy Marten for avoiding the polarizing tactics associated with certain other unnamed superintendents.

But whoa! There are also some basic facts that the Union Tribune should have noticed. On the 2013 NAEP, San Diego’s public schools outperform those of Houston in math and reading, in grades 4 and 8. San Diego is in the top tier of urban districts; Houston is not. San Diego’s scores on the NAEP have steadily improved over the past decade. The proportion of students who score “below basic” has dropped significantly, and the proportion who score at or above proficient has increased significantly over the past decade. Why does the UT envy a lower-performing district and dismiss the solid, steady, persistent gains of its own district?

Michael Casserly, the fair-minded and careful leader of the Council of Great City Schools wrote an article for the newspaper applauding the success of San Diego and the leadership of Cindy Marten, but the Union Tribute failed to publish it.

Doug Porter of the San Diego Free Press wrote up the imbroglio and called out the UT for its humbug and hypocrisy. He aptly called his article “Facts Don’t Matter in Newspaper’s Quest to Demonize Public Education in San Diego.”

He wrote:

Talk about your cheap shots. It was bad enough when the UT-San Diego editorial board whipped up an attack on our city’s schools laden with misstatements, factual errors and a personal attack on Superintendent Cindy Marten. But when a nationally recognized education leader stepped forward to correct the record on her behalf, his response was deemed unworthy for publication.

It’ all very Orwellian; reality isn’t simply what Papa Doug Manchester tries to tell us it is. When his minions refuse to acknowledge something, the idea is for you to believe that it never happened.

One of the longest running narratives with our Daily Newspaper has been their dislike for the Board of Trustees at San Diego Unified. The paper’s ‘reform’ agenda for public education mirrors the libertarian/conservative wet dream of privatized charter schools, a change that means monetizing learning for corporate interests and creating a two-tiered system favoring the wealthier (and white) classes.

The reality that voters have elected and re-elected progressives to a school board that refuses to demonize teachers and puts the classroom first just is too much for them to handle. So this hatchet job is consistent with their refusal to acknowledge that SD Unified is making steady, determined progress (and is, in fact, a national leader among urban school districts).

Porter includes the full text of Mike Casserley’s supportive article about the steady progress of the San Diego public schools. This is my favorite line from his letter chastising the San Diego UT:

“So, pining for a previous superintendent is not only an affront to Ms. Marten but is akin to daydreaming about a former lover on your honeymoon.”

Porter makes only one mistake. He suggests that the school district engaged in “puffery” when it talked about its steady improvement on NAEP. I disagree. San Diego has made steady progress. On most NAEP measures, it outperforms other large city districts. This is a record to be proud of, not puffery.

San Diego now has the political climate that every district should have: a wise and experienced educator as leader; a collaborative relationship among administrators, teachers, the union, and the school board; a sense of vision about improving the education of every child and a determination to provide a good public school in every neighborhood. This is a vision far, far from the reformy effort to close down public schools and replace them with a free market. Unlike Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and most other urban districts, San Diego has the right vision, the right climate, and the right leadership. There is a unity of purpose focused on children that is impressive.

And that is why San Diego at this moment in time is the best urban district in the nation.

Just as the holidays began, Education Week published a very important article explaining why Common Core testing causes a collapse of test scores.

Since most people were preoccupied with preparations for the holidays, it probably didn’t get much attention. But it should have because it unlocks the mystery if why state after state is experiencing a 30 point drop in passing rates on Common Core tests.

As Catherine Gewertz wrote:

“It’s one thing for all but a few states to agree on one shared set of academic standards. It’s quite another for them to agree on when students are “college ready” and to set that test score at a dauntingly high place. Yet that’s what two state assessment groups are doing.

“The two common-assessment consortia are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.

“After all, fewer than four in 10 children reached the “proficient” level on the 2013 NAEP in reading and math.”

I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. NAEP “proficient” was never considered a passing mark; it signifies excellent academic performance. Only one state in the nation, Massachusetts, has 50% of its students at NAEP proficient.

It is absurd to set such a high bar for “passing.” It is a guarantee that most students will fail.

Why do we want an education system that stigmatizes 60-70% of all students as “failures?”

Is the purpose of education to develop citizens and healthy human beings or is it to sort and rank the population for selective colleges and the workplace?


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