We have discussed the National Assessment of Educational Progress test many times and talked about the silliness that politicians read into the numbers. How they constantly single out scores from just one year and treat them as if they came from a burning bush. How they ignore the fact that NAEP is only about looking at trends over time and that no one set of scores tell us much when taken out of context.
Still, we have people like Senator Del Marsh who tries to justify his idea of dumping the Alabama College & Career Ready standards based largely on Alabama’s NAEP scores.
And recently we told you how we have delayed implementation of new math standards because the governor wants us to see how Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming, Virginia and New Jersey teach math. Why? Because they rank at the top of the list of 4th grade math scores. But as I’ve pointed out before, all we are really doing is comparing apples to oranges because things in Alabama do not compare to things in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming, Virginia and New Jersey.
So let’s do something politicians seldom do–let’s look at NAEP scores over time and maybe see why we are chasing the wrong rabbits.
The first set of NAEP tests were given to 4th and 8th graders in reading and math across the country in 1992. Surprise, surprise. That year scores in Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Jersey ranked in the top five of the entire nation. So we are now studying states that have consistently been good at math, even though they spend much more money educating each student, have great cultural differences and a long devotion to public education.
Where was Alabama in 4th grade math in 1992? We were 11 points behind the national average while Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming and New Jersey were all above the national average.
But guess what? In the last NAEP testing in 2017, Alabama had achieved a greater increase compared to the national average than any of these four states. Since 1992, Alabama has increased 4th grade math scores more than Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming or New Jersey. Only Virginia has done better from 1992 to 2017 than Alabama.
In fact, over the last 25 years only seven states have increased 4th grade math scores more than Alabama has. Of those we are studying, Virginia is the only one ahead of us in this measure.
And we don’t have to go up north looking for states to study. Mississippi has made more gain in 4th grade math than any other state in the country. Also in the top seven, the only ones better that Alabama, are Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana. Demographically we have far more in common with these deep south states that we do the ones we are studying.
The really CRITICAL measurement in education is GROWTH. How much progress are you making with the resources and student population you have. And in our infinite wisdom, we are now studying four states that have trailed Alabama in growth over 25 years. How much sense does that make?
However, we can comfort ourselves by remembering that the only people who pay attention to NAEP scores are politicians and some education bureaucrats. Certainly not teachers and principals. They are too busy working with their students to fret over basically meaningless numbers.