All of us at Ed Trust are eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s release of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress data, which will let us see how fourth- and eighth-graders across the nation perform in reading and math. As we’ve noted before, NAEP lets us compare student achievement across all 50 states. And, in a year when most states have transitioned to new assessments — making trend information hard to come by — the results also give us a consistent measure to understand trends in student achievement over time.

But before we turn our attention to understanding what the results mean, we always identify which basic questions we want to ask of the data — and why. Because we focus on low-income students and students of color, that often means asking questions like:

  • What does performance look like across states? We do cross-state (and cross-district) comparisons of performance for students of color and low-income students — not to identify “winners” and “losers,” but to get a sense of how widely performance for similar students varies across the country. These variations raise the question of why some states are getting much higher results than others.
  • How has student achievement changed over time? As is true of comparing performance across states and districts, comparing improvement trajectories helps state and district leaders put their own improvement into perspective. Doing so also helps point to places that struggling states and/or districts can learn from. Additionally, looking at improvement can serve as a wake-up call for states that are coasting on past performance and are failing to push students forward.
  • How big are gaps between groups of students? Examining gap sizes nationwide and within states can tell us who’s making sure all students achieve at high levels. However, looking at the size of gaps without other contextual information can give a misleading picture: A state can have a small gap between, for example, Latino and white students, because it’s performing poorly for both groups of students. That’s not a pattern we want to see.

These questions are far from the only ones that we can, or should, ask of NAEP, but they’re a starting point. We’ll be digging into these questions as soon as the results are released and will continue to dig more deeply into what the results tell us about student performance over the next few months.

Keep your eye on this space for what we learn.

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