NAEP ’17 Reading: Up, Down or Sideways?

standardized test

Don’t show Mama Our Nation’s Report Card.Not so good.

Tonight I’m sharing my opinions, not a major statistical treatise, but I will toss some information into the bowl, like Strega Nona, and let’s mix it up, and put a little honey on top.

Tonight I offer heartfelt, plain talk about yesterday’s shocking headlines, or not so, really, that our kids have failed. Or at least, didn’t show any growth in fourth and eighth grade reading. Goodness. Yet here we are in America, right in the middle of endless standardized testing.

Now this. Drat. Flat scores. The sideways. Up scores, like Florida. Down, like second language learners and special needs labeled students.

I am genuinely concerned. Policymakers better not even breathe in the direction of charters or private sector takeover as overreaction. Our public schools, already significantly overwhelmed, often under seige and under supported, starved in many cases, years of neglect, emotionally and financially. But let’s not go there, not now, not tonight.

NAEP has traditionally been considered a valid indicator of educational progress. It uses a statistically large sample and has consistently been fair and to the point. NAEP offers us a snapshot of what’s happening with children’s academic progress. Until now. We seriously need to look at the validity and reliability of the ’17 exams.

About Assessment.

To be effective, assessment for teachers, parents and kids, it has to be useful.

To be effective, assessment for teachers, parents and kids, it has to be reliable and valid.

To be effective, assessment for teachers, parents and kids, it has to be immediate.

It’s critically important for any standardized test, however large the sample, to be reliable over a long enough period to track, or show a trend. It was, definitely through ’15, the last real growth in reading, although nothing to brag about.

To be valid, an assessment measures the same thing the same way. This year’s test scores are like comparing the proverbial apples with oranges. I understand NAEP, after fifteen years exploration and study wanted to go completely digital, of course, only makes sense.

This year NAEP was given part and part. Eighty percent of kiddos took the tests digitally, twenty percent, traditional pencil and paper. A valid sample size of 585,000 kids participated. That gives credence without going any further. A lot of kids involved. A lot of information.

At what price did our nation’s students sacrifice accurate rendering of what they know, because of the stress and newness of the test methodology? NAEP, in comparative research studies determined no significant difference, or improved scores digitally, but I’m really not sure.

This is a difficult question, as our children are generally whizzes at technology and most probably are routinely tested via tech apps and assessments, but who knows?

Regardless, until the next assessments in a couple years, with all children taking the test digitally, one wonders. States where children’s scores went down, are most definitely looking at this factor.

Of course I am not sure, but I bet the delays in releasing the scores, orginally expected in October, were to ensure the data is in fact, accurate, maybe even to prepare for anticipated criticism. I read that NAEP thoroughly reviewed the matter to reassure us.

So that being said, let’s look at just the big picture of the new results, assuming accuracy in data. Truthfully, when the NAEP tests wholly on digital, that should start a new trend line, as it did from 1992. I doubt this will happen.

Only about one- third of our children in eighth grade read at or near proficient level. Worse, the achievement gap widened. Flat scores for most children, most states, with few noteworthy exceptions, as Florida, where scores went up in fourth and eighth, including subgroups.

Here we go again. You saw the classroom pictures. You heard about second jobs. You heard about teachers crying at soup kitchens. Pretty sad. Now hold those same teachers accountable? Blame game? Fully fund public schools. End the testing madness. Put the money into fair salaries and classrooms. Lower class sizes. Watch what happens to these scores.

Was it this test? Can it be true after all these years of reforms that only one-third of America’s fourth and eighth graders read at proficient levels? Why? We know how to teach reading.

Our NAEP Report card shows mostly a C, flat scores mostly sideways, a little up and down. Not much. And that is the problem, my colleagues, parents and friends. No big growth.

Title I came about in 1965, under President Lyndon Johnson. Its stated goal was to bring all children, equally to educational parity. All children. After many years of ESEA Title I. After No Child Left Behind. After ESSA.

The gap widened in these just released scores. It was supposed to narrow, then go away. Didn’t happen, gap worsened. For special needs children and ELL, second language learners who probably shouldn’t be tested anyway, scores went down.

As I said, the intent of the original Title I legislation was to narrow the achievement gap. When you read NAEP statistics you notice that scores did go up steadily from 1992 to 2003. Since then, a spotty situation. Some highs and lows. The biggest problem I see in this last blast of scores is that the highest achieving group of children, the upper twenty- five percent carried any gains at all on the reading tests.

Flat scores. Let me repeat, really no change at all for fourth and eighth reading. The extremely minor eighth grade one point gain, to 267 on a 500 point score in reading, since ’15, was not equally distributed. The lower achieving children did not raise their scores, they dropped. Disturbing trend, if it is a trend. Not sure yet.

With teacher strikes as a backdrop, NAEP ’17 (National Assessment of Educational Progress) dropped the bad news yesterday.

Tonight I am referring only to reading, as that is my area of expertise. Math scores, however, were about the same, across the board, generally flat.

Standardized testing is a conundrum. So much emphasis, to the detriment of class activities. Teaching to the test. Loss of curricular programs, needed way more than practice tests and endless hours of assessment. Numbing.

This pendulum needs to be rocked. And now this. Exactly.

“Education Week” reported grim results. “Average scores for most states remained unchanged from 2015 in either grade or subject and more states saw declines than improvements.” The article also pointed to widening gaps , stating “Low-achieving students are declining.”

All in all, since 1992, by 2015 NAEP reading scores increased by six points at grade four and five points at grade eight.

Fourth grade was not statistically different than ’13. In eighth grade reading, these results were lower than ’13, disturbing.

Let’s peek back at my BAM, NAEP blog post, Feb 2016, “Been Down So Long Looks Like UpTo Me”. Important baseline information for us to reflect on. Read and weep. Then let’s fix this, as a collective voice for our students.

  • 4th: Below basic: 32 percent; Basic: 33%; Proficient: 27%; Advanced: 8%
  • 8th: Below basic: 24%; Basic: 24%; Proficient: 27%; Advanced: 8%
  • Black children: 4th grade: 18%. 8th grade: 16%.
  • Hispanic: 4th gade: 21%. 8th grade: 21%.

Since these scores remained the same or dropped further, the only way is up. We have a common ground, a starting place to figure out where we are as a nation of readers, and where to go from here.

Call me hopeful tonight. Our goal remains to help make every child a reader. That is, a capable confident reader in a nation of readers. Reading is a joy forever!

World class scholars are in the making. We are the ones to do it Now. We are still every bit as good as Finland. Maybe better.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

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