SLUGGISH RESULTS SEEN IN NATIONAL MATH SCORES
By SAM DILLON | New York Times
October 15, 2009 -- The latest results on the most important nationwide math test show that student achievement grew faster during the years before the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, when states were dominant in education policy, than over the years since, when the federal law has become a powerful force in classrooms.
Scores increased only marginally for eighth graders and not at all for fourth graders, continuing a sluggish six-year trend of slowing achievement growth since passage of the law, which requires schools to bring 100 percent of students to reading and math proficiency by 2014.
On the most recent test, 39 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level.
“The trend is flat; it’s a plateau. Scores are not going anywhere, at least nowhere important,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research organization in Washington. “That means that eight years after enactment of No Child Left Behind, the problems it set out to solve are not being solved, and now we’re five years from the deadline and we’re still far, far from the goal.”
The test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, was given to 329,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students. Results in reading are to be released next year, officials said.
“This is the first time in 19 years that fourth-grade math scores are flat,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We’ve got to get better faster.”
The latest scores were especially disappointing because score gaps between white and minority students did not diminish at all since the last time the math test was administered, in 2007. On average, the nation’s fourth graders scored 240 on a 500-point scale, just as they did in 2007. White fourth graders, on average, scored 248, Hispanics scored 227 and blacks scored 222.
Eighth graders, on average, scored 283 on the same scale, up from 281 in 2007. White eighth graders, on average, scored 293, while Hispanics scored 266 and black eighth graders scored 261.
The gap of 32 points separating average black and white eighth graders represents about three years’ worth of math learning.
Enactment of the No Child Left Behind law in 2001 followed a decade dominated by a standards and accountability movement that brought deep changes to public schools. Educators and policy makers, in nearly every state, laid out standards as to what students were expected to know in each grade and subject, and required schools to use those standards to guide instruction. They also established standardized testing regimes intended to measure whether students were meeting the standards and to hold schools accountable for studenachievement.
The federal law, proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress in his first year in office, sought to build on the standards movement with many new federal rules, including a requirement that states administer reading and math tests every year to students in grades three through eight and once in high school.
It required schools to publish their scores on state tests not just as averages, but broken down by students’ race, sex and other groups, a rule that most educators agree has focused attention on narrowing achievement gaps.
And it raised the importance of the National Assessment, requiring the Department of Education to increase the frequency of its administration in math and reading to once every two years, to help Americans monitor progress toward the goals of universal proficiency and the elimination of the achievement gap.
The latest results on the National Assessment show that in the six years since the law took effect, fourth-grade scores have risen by five points, to 240 from 235. That is slower growth than during the seven years preceding the federal law, when average fourth-grade math scores grew by 11 points, to 235 in 2003 from 224 in 1996.
“Either the standards movement has played out, or the No Child law failed to build on its momentum,” said Mark Schneider, who from 2005 to 2008 was commissioner of the arm of the Department of Education that oversees the National Assessment. “Whatever momentum we had, however, is gone.”
No one can say for certain why achievement progress has slowed since the federal law took effect, and Mr. Schneider and other experts warned that economic, demographic and social factors other than the law itself may be to blame.
But an unintended consequence of the law has been that many states have lowered the rigor of their standards and the difficulty of their tests to avoid sanctions the law imposes on failing schools, a process Secretary Duncan has called a “race to the bottom.”
David P. Driscoll, chairman of National Assessment Governing Board, said at a news conference in Washington announcing the scores: “Mathematics achievement is not close to where it should be.”
“A major reason,” he said, “continues to be the lack of content knowledge and mathematics preparation of our teachers.”
“We’re just inching upwards, and we’ve only got about a third of our students proficient,” Professor Schmidt said.
The large variation in average scores by state, he said, should be a focus of national analysis. In Massachusetts, for instance, where educators have sharply raised math scores in recent years by carefully reworking standards and instruction, 57 percent of fourth graders scored at or above proficient on the latest test. That compares with Mississippi, where only 16 percent of students scored at proficient.
“How can we as a nation allow such disparity?” Professor Schmidt asked.
California math scores among the lowest
Jill Tucker, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Signs hanging in math class are written in several different languages at International High School in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, September 1, 2009. Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
Wednesday, October 14, 2009 -- Thank goodness for Mississippi and Alabama.
If not for the two southern states, California students would be at the bottom of the national heap in mathematics, according to the 2009 Nation's Report Card released Wednesday.
The abysmal standing, which reflects in part the state's diverse population, hasn't changed much over the years. California consistently has ranked among the lowest-scoring states in the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated assessment of a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.
On the plus side, state students have made steady progress over the years, generally keeping pace with their national counterparts - albeit from the back of the pack.
California's fourth-graders outscored their peers in only the two southern states and the District of Columbia, and tied five states. Eighth-graders outscored only Mississippi and the District of Columbia, and tied four states.
Overall, California students performed at or below the national average regardless of income or ethnicity.
"We have nothing to celebrate. It is not a high ranking we are holding on to," said Linda Murray, acting executive director for The Education Trust-West, an Oakland nonprofit focused on closing the achievement gap, in a statement. "The 2009 NAEP results in math are more boulders thrown on top of a mountain of data that scream at us to pay attention."
While math instruction varies state to state, the national test is a challenging, comprehensive and a consistent indicator of student achievement, said Stuart Kerachsky, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results.
"You can't really escape the conclusion that low performance on NAEP means there is a problem in a state that should be addressed," he said in a Wednesday teleconference.
The national standing poses a conundrum for California education officials, who noted that students' scores improved in math on state tests over the last few years.
In addition, on California's standardized tests, more than half the students test at grade level or above in math, while on the national assessment, less than one-third reach that goal.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell supports a national effort to create common standards at each grade level so that all states teach the same thing at the same time and then test on that level.
Federal officials said California's low standing can be explained in part by a disproportionate representation of students who historically post the lowest scores on the test - English learners, low-income students and Hispanic students.
That means on the national test more of those students are tested in California than elsewhere in the country. For example, 30 percent of the state's fourth-grade students tested were English learners compared with 10 percent nationwide.
4th-graders level off
Federal and state education officials said they are concerned that fourth-grade math scores in California and nationwide leveled off this year after nearly two decades of consistent improvement. Nationally, eighth-grade scores increased to the highest levels since 1990.
And both here and across the country, closing the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers has been an uphill and sometimes losing battle.
"With a lack of progress at fourth grade and large achievement gaps that are relatively unchanged, we need to re-examine our efforts to improve student achievement in math," said David P. Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, in a statement.
The Nation's Report Card, congressionally mandated since 1969, evaluated 168,800 fourth-graders and 161,700 eighth-grade students in public and private schools across the country over six weeks from the end of January to the beginning of March.
For the complete results from the 2009 Nation's Report Card, go to nationsreportcard.gov.
California's poor ranking
Average scores in California and nationwide on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (500-point scale)
Source: U.S. Department of Education
E-mail Jill Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 14, 2009
Contact: Deb Kennedy
State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Comments on Release
of NAEP 2009 Mathematics Assessment Results
SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell issued the following statement today regarding the release of fourth and eighth grade mathematic results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP scores for California have not changed significantly since 2007, the last time NAEP math results were released. Similarly, the average score for the nation remained unchanged for fourth graders and increased slightly for eighth graders. Average scores for both the state and nation remain at the NAEP "basic" achievement level, which denotes partial mastery of fundamental skills at each grade.
"The NAEP math results show no statistical change in student performance in math at our state level when compared to the results released two years ago," said O’Connell. "Yet, our state assessment system indicates that California students have made steady progress on California’s rigorous standards over the same period of time, and we have seen a slight narrowing of the achievement gap. This dichotomy is confusing, which is one reason states have said it’s time for core content standards common to all states and an assessment aligned to those standards. Having a set of common, rigorous standards that prepares all students to succeed in college and careers would raise the bar for many students, and make any national assessment much more meaningful as a gauge of student learning."
The NAEP assessments are not specifically aligned to California’s content standards, but are based on an assessment framework developed under the direction of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. Currently, each state has its own unique set of standards and curricula for kindergarten through the twelfth grade. California is one of 48 states that recently signed a compact to explore the development of rigorous common core standards to ensure that all students graduate with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in college and careers. President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have embraced this concept and have included the adoption of common core standards in the application criteria for Race to the Top funds.
The NAEP math results for California fourth graders indicates that white, African American, and Asian student subgroups score similarly to students in those subgroups at the national level. However, the Latino subgroup in the fourth grade scored lower than the national Latino subgroup. Eighth-grade results reveal that only white students in California are keeping pace with the nation, while African American, Latino, and Asian student subgroups score lower than those at the national level.
The results show similar sized achievement gaps at both the fourth- and eighth- grade levels when California and the national NAEP scores are compared. The NAEP math results also show no progress in closing the achievement gap between students who are white or Asian and their peers who are Latino or African American in California or nationwide.
"Clearly, we must better address the educational needs of African American and Latino students in California and across the nation," said O’Connell. "The evidence of a pervasive achievement gap was apparent on both the state and national assessments and starkly underscored the need to work ever more diligently to implement effective practices to close the gap. It’s critical for the future of our state and our nation that we turn this trend around."
Also known as "The Nation’s Report Card," NAEP is a national assessment that tests a representative sample of students in grades four, eight, and twelve in various subjects including math, science, reading, and writing. NAEP provides a common yardstick for measuring student achievement nationwide, allowing for state comparisons. Math results for grade twelve will be reported in 2010.
Results are released for the nation, states, and certain large urban school districts. There are no student- or school-level results. The limited district results for the 2009 math assessment are expected to be released in November.
Complete results for the 2009 NAEP mathematics assessment are available online at The Nation's Report Card: The Nation's Report Card - National Assessment of Educational Progress - NAEP [http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/] (Outside Source).
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Jack O'Connell — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5206, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100