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NAEP Flatline Highlights Ed Reform Need

By Jeanne Allen
National Journal
November 8, 2011

It’s hard to believe we even need to have a debate on whether or not — and how — the paltry results of the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress, or The Nation’s Report Card, have an impact on policy decisions among our local, state and national leaders and what we should learn from those results. Consider what the data really shows:

Barely one percentage point gain overall compared to 2009 scores; specifically 4th- and 8th grade math was only one point higher as was 8th-grade reading. There were no gains in 4th-grade reading.

A persistent achievement gap that still represents a 25-point spread between black and white students, and 20%or higher in some cases between white and Hispanic.

Forty-two states have shown no significant improvement on either test since 2009.

Not to sound flippant, but I don’t really care what our goals are as a nation or locally, as long as we have fewer than 40% of our students in all but a few cases able to meet proficiency standards that are arguably less rigorous than the NAEP of old. Indeed, while it’s still the gold standard and exposes state tests for being inflated and lacking real meaning, NAEP has had it’s own roll backs so even a point here or there is nothing to cheer.

Beyond being a reminder that flatlining is not a good thing; there is also an important takeaway from the data when you scratch below the surface. Like both SAT and ACT results which, while not samples, also show stagnant results, NAEP scores among those who many believe have great schools at their disposal remain well below standards. While we must work hardest to improve conditions for our disadvantaged youth, we should be alarmed that white student progress remains alarmingly low considering all the wealth, all the time and attention these students seem to get when compared with those on the opposite side of the achievement gap.

Why can’t the school districts the realtors boast about do more with the clientele they get that they can’t blame for being hungry, poor or disengaged?

Our college bound youth that will graduate from a 4-year college remains an elite crop, and it’s no wonder, since even their proficiency scores are barely above 50% in most states. We have accepted mediocrity because those youth hide behind As and Bs, in schools, an abundance of AP tests and every resource educators could ever want. But their gains, their own matriculation through school and their achievements are a challenge for the US in this global economy.

The complacency that plagues more advantaged Americans has an impact on our ability to fix the problems with our disadvantaged citizens. For a long as there is a majority which believes its schools are great, no bold policy proposals that do away with failure once and for all will gain any meaningful traction.