Rick Hess, senior education fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, did not join the crowd of apologists and excuse-makers who downplayed the meaning of the 2015 NAEP scores. He said the scores were “dismal,” “a train wreck,” and “mass carnage.”

He noted that Secretary Duncan was in “damage control” mode. 

Hess writes:

“Viewed against more than two decades of prior scores, these results can only be described as a train wreck. They were so disturbing mostly because we’ve gotten so used to steady improvement in NAEP scores. Never before had fourth-grade math scores declined. Eighth-grade reading scores hadn’t fallen since 1996. Fourth-grade reading scores haven’t dipped since 2003, or eighth-grade reading since 2005. In other words, the widespread carnage on display this year is wholly unprecedented. The Obama administration, which has bragged about the efficacy of its federally fueled school-reform agenda, immediately moved to aggressive damage control. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained that the declines should in no way raise questions about Obama-promoted education policies such as Common Core or the administration’s Race to the Top program. “Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

Duncan’s insistence that it will take a while for Obama policies to bear fruit would be more compelling if he had not — just last week— already credited Obama policies such as the School Improvement Grant program with boosting the nation’s graduation rate. Or if, two years ago, he hadn’t credited administration policies for 2013’s NAEP gains. At the time, he said, “All eight states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement . . . and none of the eight states had a decline in scores.” He added, “Tennessee, D.C., and Hawaii have done some really tough, hard work, and it’s showing some pretty remarkable dividends” on the NAEP results.”

Other commentators blamed the recession of 2008, but Hess pointed out that the recession did not affect scores in 2009 or 2011.

There are many reasons why scores go up or down, but whatever they may be, NAEP 2015 is a disaster for Duncan and Obama’s years of boasting about their education agenda. You can’t claim credit when scores go up but disown the scores when they go down.

Having heard about the fierce urgency of reform for seven years, now we are told that it will take a decade to see the fruits of high-stakes testing and racing to the top. That doesn’t sound like fierce urgency. It sounds like the worn-out status quo, making excuses for failure.

My own hunch about the test-score stagnation is that teachers, principals, students, and schools were confused by the constant disruption that reformers prize. Children and schools need consistency and stability. That’s precisely what reform could not deliver.

Corporations can re-invent themselves, but schools must be a refuge from a world of uncertainty. To import that uncertainty into the school does not improve education. It turns the schools into heartless, soulless, cold institutions where teachers and principals come and go; staff members disappear. The school itself may close and vanish.

Turmoil is not conducive to teaching and learning.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/426222/reading-math-national-assessment-educational-progress-arne-duncan