Test Scores On “Nation’s Report Card” Fall, Leaders Cite Common Core Rollout
Test Scores on “Nation’s Report Card” Fall, Leaders Cite Common Core Rollout
Education leaders have pointed to the implementation of the Common Core as a potential cause for a decline in national test scores that were released on Wednesday. However, they have cautioned against definitively linking specific policies to the change.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses fourth- and eighth-graders’ math and reading skills and has been conducted every other year since the late 1960s. Both eighth-grade exams saw a decline in scores nationwide, as did the fourth-grade math exam. However, the scores for the fourth-grade reading test remained unchanged compared to previous results.
During the period between the 2013 and 2015 tests, many states adopted the more rigorous Common Core academic standards. This decrease in NAEP scores could provide additional ammunition for critics of the Common Core who view it as an overreach of federal power into local schools.
A study conducted by the American Institutes for Research, released on Monday, found a general alignment between the skills tested in the NAEP math exam and the math content covered by the Common Core standards. However, significant differences were identified in other subjects, such as 4th-grade data analysis, statistics, and probability. Only 47 percent of the items covered by the NAEP test were included in the Common Core.
Most researchers argue that specific policies, like the Common Core standards, should not be assessed solely based on raw NAEP data. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, noted that it is common to observe an "implementation dip" when schools undertake significant changes. Therefore, he was not surprised by the decline in scores.
Duncan cited the example of Massachusetts, which experienced a decline in scores after raising standards two decades ago. The state now consistently ranks among the top in the country. He posed the question of whether the nation could follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps and make the necessary changes that would yield long-term benefits. Duncan emphasized that major changes of this magnitude require a sustained effort and progress may not always be immediate or linear.
Bill Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, the bipartisan group responsible for the NAEP exam, was careful to avoid suggesting any cause-and-effect relationship. However, he acknowledged that disruption caused by the implementation of the Common Core could be a potential factor contributing to the decline.
Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Educational Statistics, urged caution in drawing conclusions about a long-term decline in scores based solely on this year’s results. She emphasized that a single downturn does not establish a trend and highlighted that scores have generally increased since the early 1990s. Carr advised exercising judgment and awaiting the outcome of future tests in 2017.
Carr emphasized that it is impossible to determine whether any specific changes in education policy caused the decline in scores. The lack of information makes it difficult to understand the relationship between changing patterns and other national educational developments.
In addition to national results, the scores were also analyzed at the state and district levels. The analysis revealed that the achievement gaps between white students and their black, Hispanic, and Native American peers have remained mostly unchanged in recent years. However, some progress has been made in closing these gaps since the early 1990s.
Fourth-grade math scores improved in three states: the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and schools run by the Defense Department on military bases. Moreover, fourth-grade reading scores increased in 13 states, while eighth-grade reading scores improved in West Virginia.
Statewide results declined on two tests in 10 states, on three tests in Delaware, and on all four tests in Maryland.
Among urban school districts, there were increases on at least two tests in D.C. Public Schools, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County Schools in Florida. Conversely, decreases on two or more tests were observed in Baltimore, Albuquerque, and Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa).
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