Politicians love numbers. Even ones that are deceptive. I suppose they think the public is too dumb to catch their sleight of hand.
Which means that no one should be surprised that the “talking points” put out by Del Marsh to promote his bill to roll back our academic standards references numbers that are meaningless and totally out of context.
Once again the numbers are from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which seem to be a favorite target of politicians trying to justify their lack of logic.
NAEP tests are given every two years across the country in reading and math to 4th and 8th graders. Students and schools are picked at random. About 2,500 students in Alabama are tested. They have up to 120 minutes to complete. About 50 students are tested per school. Some must be students with disabilities and English language learners. They are told that they do not get a grade for taking this test. This is a NAEP testing year.
(Former Governor Robert Bentley fell under the spell of NAEP when he voted to hire Mike Sentance to be state superintendent because he was from Massachusetts and since they had the highest NAEP math scores in the country, Sentance would soon do the same thing for Alabama. Does anyone recall how that all turned out?)
To prove his case that Alabama is going backwards because we use the Alabama College & Career Ready standards, Marsh trots out numbers showing that in the 2017 NAEP scores, we were 45th in 4th grade math, 46th in 8th grade reading and 50th in 8th grade math. But he forgets to tell the entire story because it does not support his agenda.
NAEP is simply a snapshot in time. The scores from one year only tell you about RIGHT NOW, they provide no context.
Here is what Marsh does not want people in Alabama to know.
Take 4th grade math. In 1992 (the first year of NAEP), Alabama was 11 points behind the national average. In 2017 we were only seven points behind. In fact, figures from the NAEP web site show that from 1992 to 2017, only ten states made greater gains in 4th grade math than Alabama. And our gains in this period were greater than those in Massachusetts.
It is also noteworthy that Alabama has been closing the “gap” between scores of white and black students faster than the national average.
Senator Marsh wants us to believe that the team leading at halftime of a football game is the same one who will win the game. He wants us to believe that the halftime score is the only one that counts.
No, we are not where we want to be. But we are making more progress than most states. Which is a truth Senator Marsh doesn’t care to talk about. Besides, everyone knows that TRUTH and POLITICAL AGENDAS seldom match.
Editor’s note: We will test 2,500 students for NAEP. There are 722,000 in the state. That is a sample size of only .003 percent. By the same token, there are 140 members of the legislature. A sample size of .003 means that the entire legislature would be judged on the action of 0.4 percent of the body. We would grade all 140 members on how less than one member did. It’s unlikely many of them would think this to be equitable.