Press Release

Statement and Analysis from The Education Trust: 2015 NAEP Results

Publication date: Oct 28, 2015

WASHINGTON — Results from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are sobering. Nationally, performance in fourth-grade math as well as in eighth-grade math and reading has declined since 2013.

Most troubling, these data mark the first consistent deviation from the slow but steady gains the nation has seen for low-income students and students of color over the past 20 years:

  • Since the 1990s, low-income students’ fourth- and eighth-grade math scores have risen with every NAEP administration; between 2013 and 2015, however, their scores fell in both grades.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, eighth-grade reading and math scores fell for African American students, the first time on record that scores have fallen among African American eighth-graders.
  • Over time, Latino students’ reading and math scores have risen in all four grades and subjects, with no significant drops. Between 2013 and 2015, scores fell significantly in eighth-grade reading and were flat in all other grades and subjects.

With fewer than 1 in 4 low-income students and students of color reaching the proficient or advanced levels, the nation cannot afford anything less than accelerated improvement for these groups, who now make up the majority of our K-12 student body.

“Today’s results serve as yet another wake-up call that we must strengthen our nation’s commitment to improve the education of all children, particularly low-income students and students of color who are most likely to be underserved by their schools,” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development at The Education Trust. “While there are plausible reasons for the declines in achievement, any stall in progress is a pause that students, especially those starting out behind, can’t afford.”

To be clear, we can only glean so much from one year’s worth of data. But the results do raise questions about the policies and practices that impact our most vulnerable students. For example, our analysis shows that new state accountability systems under No Child Left Behind allow schools to get top ratings despite flat or declining performance for groups of students. Likewise, our analysis of actual classroom assignments point to problems in the implementation of new, college- and career-ready standards, specifically that teachers often lack the needed support to translate the new standards into meaningful learning experiences, causing students to be less prepared.

Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice, noted, “Shifting to college- and career-ready standards required major changes in classroom practices all across the country, many of which were quite messy. While states are in the midst of recalibrating the higher standards, this data shows that they must double-down on what is actually working in the classroom to raise achievement for all kids and close achievement gaps.”

Today’s data also allow for a look underneath the national averages to patterns across all states and a group of urban districts. Some jurisdictions stand out for having declining achievement, low achievement, and/or wide gaps:

  • In South Carolina, not only do African American students lag behind their peers nationwide in all four subjects and grades, but these students have also generally shown flat or declining performance since 2013.
  • Reading and math scores for low-income eighth-graders in both North Dakota and South Dakota have fallen since 2003, and declined or stagnated since 2013.
  • In Connecticut, the gaps separating African American and Latino students from their white peers, as well as lower income students from their higher income peers, are wider than the national average for all four subjects and grades, and in math, scores for all groups have been stagnant since 2003.
  • Cleveland was the slowest improving district for students overall and for low-income students in all four grades and subjects between 2003 and 2015. It’s also the slowest improving for African Americans in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.
  • Detroit was the lowest performing district for students overall in all four grades and subjects in 2015.

But, thankfully, other states and districts show what’s possible in terms of performance, improvement, and gap-narrowing:

  • Since 2003, Arizona has had large gains for low-income and African American students. For African American fourth-graders, the state had the biggest reading gains of any state, and the second-biggest math gains. Among low-income students, the state showed double-digit increases for all four grades and subjects.
  • Mississippi posted gains in fourth grade reading and math for both African American and low-income students since 2013.
  • Oklahoma has made double-digit gains for Native 4th graders since 2003, and is consistently above the national average for Native students.
  • Between 2003 and 2015, the District of Columbia (DCPS) was the fastest improving district in fourth-grade math for all groups of students. It was also the fastest improving district in fourth-grade reading for students overall, and for African American and Latino students.
  • In fourth- and eighth-grade math, Chicago saw bigger gains than Illinois for students overall, and low-income, Latino, and African American students.

These differences prove, once again, that what states and districts do matters hugely. Education leaders at the national, state, and local levels must do a clear-eyed assessment of what’s working and what’s not, and redouble efforts to drive improvement for all students, especially our most vulnerable.

For more national, state, and district data on performance, improvement, and gaps, see the tables below.

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The Education Trust is a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college. Its goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream. Learn more at www.EdTrust.org

National Assessment of Educational Progress

Grade Four Reading

Grade Four Math

Grade Eight Reading

Grade Eight Math

Combined TUDA Results

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