Statement from The Education Trust on the 2007 math and reading results from The Nation’s Report Card
Todays results from the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) released by the U.S. Department of Education continue a familiar trend: more progress in math than reading, and bigger gains in fourth grade than eighthbut not nearly enough progress, especially among low-income and minority students.
While the gains are not big enough, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the increases reflect real improvements in teaching and learning in our nations public schools, said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. We have to celebrate those successes, but at the same time we also have to acknowledge the reality that there is still a lot more left to do.
As seen in recent years, the most encouraging results from the 2007 NAEP assessment are found in fourth-grade math. All groups of students posted the highest achievement scores since the test was first administered, with increases at every level of the achievement spectrum.
Since 1996, the percentage of our nations fourth-grade students performing below the Basic achievement level in math has been cut in half, from 39 percent to 19 percent, with even stronger improvement among poor and minority students (from 73 percent to 37 percent for African Americans, 61 percent to 31 percent for Latinos, and 60 percent to 30 percent for poor students). At the same time, higher performers also posted significant gains, increasing the ranks of students at the Proficient and Advanced levels.
Learning is not a zero-sum game, said Haycock. These results refute the false premise that increased attention to our lowest-performing students means that progress among higher achievers must be sacrificed.
In addition, overall improvement among Latinos was particularly strong. The Latino student population in the U.S. has more than doubled since the beginning of these NAEP reading and math tests, nearly tripling in some of the NAEP sample groups. At the same time, Latino students are performing in both subjects and in both grades at higher levels than ever before.
As the education rhetoric in Washington escalates, these NAEP results inevitably will be cast as a referendum on the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Some of the laws supporters will argue that the data prove that NCLB is a success, while critics will claim that the results reveal its fundamental flaws.
Neither is right, said Haycock. In math, its impossible to compare immediately pre- and post-NCLB gains because the exam was administered in 2003, one year after the law was signed. In reading, though improvements in the years immediately before NCLB are somewhat greater than those since, no one can be satisfied with the pace of improvement either before or since enactment.
Yes, were headed in the right direction, but not quickly enough. That doesnt mean that NCLB is wrong or misguided. The results simply signal what we already knowwe need to focus far more energy on getting strong teachers to the children who most need them, and on providing those teachers with quality curriculum and support, because accountability alone is not enough.
A critical value of the biennial NAEP results is the ability to distinguish between leading and lagging states in terms of student performance, achievement gaps, and trends over time. The historic commitment embodied in NCLB is that every child is entitled to a high-quality education in our nations public schools. But states are the ones in the drivers seat, and NAEP reveals which states are on the education highway, and which ones are taking the low road.
Among the standouts from the latest results:
- Since 1998, Delaware has posted the biggest gains in reading performance in both fourth and eighth grades overall and for African American, Latino, and low-income students. Delawares fourth-grade reading scores are up 18 points overall, including a 24-point increase for African Americans, 42 points for Latinos, and 25 points for low-income students.
- Florida is among the top-five biggest gaining states in both fourth and eighth grades overall and for African American, Latino, and low-income students.
- New Mexico and West Virginia both lost significant ground in eighth-grade reading performance since 1998, each dropping seven points overall, including declining performance among poor and minority students. Oklahoma and Rhode Island are both down overall and for African American, Latino, and poor students since 1998.
- Arkansas is the biggest gainer in fourth-grade math achievement (+22) since 2000, and the second-biggest gainer in eighth grade (+17, just behind Massachusetts +19). Arkansas is among the top-five states for improving math achievement in both fourth and eighth grade for African American and low-income students. (Arkansas did not have a sufficient sample of Latino students at the beginning of the trend to make a valid comparison.)
- Arkansas has also posted some of the biggest reductions in the percentage of students scoring below Basic. In fourth grade, the percentage of Arkansas students scoring below Basic has been reduced by 26 percentage points overall, by 32 points for African American students, and by 34 points for poor students. In eighth grade, the percentage of Arkansas students scoring below Basic has been reduced by 16 percentage points overall, by 27 points for African Americans, and by 20 points for low-income students.
- In fourth grade, every state that has been participating in NAEP since 2000 has improved overall and for African American, Latino, and poor students.
- In eighth grade, Massachusetts led the nation in gains overall, and was among the top-five states in gains for Latinos and poor students. However, Massachusetts gains for African American students (+6) lagged significantly behind the national average (+16).
We cant close achievement gaps if we are not willing to confront them. While the results in some states are proof that we absolutely can help struggling students improve, there is also evidence that states are woefully under-educating poor and minority students, said Haycock.
There can be no educational excellence in the 21st century without educational equity, she said. The NCLB accountability system can tell us whether were meeting our goals, but we have to get serious about doing what it takes to attract and develop strong teachers in our nations most challenged schools, and give them the support they need to help their students improve. Todays results are a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that our nation is providing all young Americans with the high-quality education they need and deserve.
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Additional data analysis, including the following, can be accessed through the links in the right column, sorted by grade and subject:
- Average scale score, by group, by state
- Achievement gaps, from biggest to smallest, by state
- Progress in moving students out of below Basic achievement, by state