Friday, November 08, 2013

NAEP: ONE TEST, THREE SCORING RUBRICS? ….or it isn’t how you play the game, it’s who keeps score that counts

California students among worst performers on national assessment of reading and math

By Lillian Mongeau |EdSource Today |

A sample question from the 4th grade math test. Credit:

<<A sample question from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ 4th grade math test. Credit:

November 7th, 2013   ::  California students performed about the same in reading and math on this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress as they did in 2011, ranking among the 10 lowest performing states in the country.

Results from this year’s assessment show that only 33 percent of California 4th grade students and 28 percent of 8th graders are proficient or better in math. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders and 29 percent of  8th graders are proficient or better.

Explore how California students performed on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The national assessment is delivered to a representative sample of children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia every other year; the skills tested and form of the test differ from California’s standardized tests.

Overall, California students continue to rank near the bottom on the national assessment: Fourth graders scored 46th in the nation in math, and 47th in the nation in reading; eighth graders ranked 43rd in the nation in math and 42nd in reading.

Student scores did not change significantly from two years ago in any area except 8th grade reading, where students made a 7 point gain – the largest in the country.

California was one of 13 states, the Department of Defense schools and the District of Columbia, that made gains in 8th grade reading between 2011 and 2013. Source:

^California was one of 13 states, the Department of Defense schools and the District of Columbia, that made gains in 8th grade reading between 2011 and 2013. Source:

“These scores are another sign that we are moving in the right direction to prepare students for college and career, but we still have a lot of work to do to make sure every student graduates equipped to succeed,” California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in the statement.

The department declined to comment further on the mostly flat performance of California students on the national test.

Students in all 50 states, including California, have improved steadily, if slowly, in math and reading since the test was first administered in 1970. That improvement holds true across ethnic groups, though a gap in performance between white students and their black and Hispanic peers has persisted. The gap between white and black students in California continues to mirror the national gap, while the gap between white and Latino students is slightly larger in California than in other states on all measures except 8th grade reading.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the disparity between the performance of white students and students of color “extremely concerning” in a news conference on the new test data Wednesday. The solution, he said, is expanded public programs for young children as proposed by President Barack Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address.

In the seven months since the national assessment was administered here, California has adopted two major policy changes in school funding and curriculum. State money will now be distributed to school districts according to a Local Control Funding Formula that provides extra funding for low-income students and students still learning English. And the state’s academic standards have been replaced with the new national Common Core standards, which require teachers to go into greater depth in the subjects they teach.

Read EdSource’s short guide to California’s new Local Control Funding Formula for schools.

Champions of the new policies are hopeful that they will lead to an uptick in student performance on the national assessment in coming years, said David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a non-partisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of California – Berkeley, and the University of Southern California.

“Those of us who are supportive of (the new funding formula, known as) LCFF, and additional flexibility for local decision makers are optimistic that those changes will allow local educators to adapt their programs to the needs of their own students and that will lead to better circumstances for their own students,” Plank said.

As the Common Core curriculum rolls out, there has been speculation that student scores on the new standardized tests, meant to assess students on the new standards, will be worse than they were on the old STAR tests, which were based on the now defunct California state standards. Plank said that might happen because the test is changing, not because the curriculum is changing, and he does not expect to see a dip in performance on the national assessment.

In fact, Plank said, the National Assessment of Educational Progress will be the only consistent measure of student performance delivered before and after the major policy changes now being implemented. Progress will likely continue to be slow and steady, he said.

“It’s unrealistic to expect dramatic changes and probably needless to worry about dramatic deterioration” on the next national test, which will be administered in 2015, Plank said.

Plank does expect to see improvement in student performance in 2015 and hopes to see performance gains accelerate over time. How big those gains might be depends entirely on how well the new policies are implemented, he said.

“At this point, I’m optimistic,” Plank said. “We’ve made changes that should lead to significant improvement in student performance but there are way too many variables in between for us to make strong judgments about that.”

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau.

School Reform Delivers

States that measure teachers by student results show big gains on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress


Wall Street Journal Editorial |

Nov. 7, 2013 7:01 p.m. ET  ::  Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress (i.e., the nation's report card) results on Thursday as "encouraging." That's true only if you look at Washington, D.C., Tennessee and states that have led on teacher accountability and other reforms.

Student scores on the test, which is administered every two years to a sample of schools in all 50 states, have barely budged since 2011. Average fourth and eighth grade math scores improved by one point on a scale of 0 to 500 while fourth-grade reading scores were flat. That's nothing to brag about, Arne.

However, a handful of states did post significant gains, and the District of Columbia and Tennessee stand out. Until very recently, Washington, D.C. was an example of public school failure. Then in 2009 former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee implemented more rigorous teacher evaluations that place a heavy emphasis on student learning. The district also tied pay to performance evaluations and eliminated tenure so that ineffective teachers could be fired.

Between 2010 and 2012, about 4% of D.C. teachers—and nearly all of those rated "ineffective"—were dismissed. About 30% of teachers rated "minimally effective" left on their own, likely because they didn't receive a pay bump and were warned that they could be removed within a year if they failed to shape up.

Clearing out the deadwood appears to have lifted scores. D.C. led the nation in student progress. Average reading scores jumped five points in the fourth grade and six in the eighth. The percentage of students scoring at or above "basic" in math rose by six points in both grade levels.

As an aside, the teachers unions and their liberal allies cite isolated incidents of teacher cheating on the district's annual standardized tests to discredit Ms. Rhee's reform. But even Mr. Duncan notes that "signs of progress on the NAEP—known as the nation's report card—are especially compelling because they cannot be attributed to teaching to the test or testing irregularities, such as cheating."

Also making large strides was Tennessee, where reading scores had plateaued between 1992 and 2011. One glaring problem was that teachers were evaluated only twice every 10 years, and collective-bargaining agreements prevented the state from requiring more accountability.

In 2011, Republican Governor Bill Haslam and the GOP legislature eliminated collective bargaining for teachers, which gave local districts the whip hand to change teacher contracts. The state also established a new evaluation system that weighs student achievement, increased to five years of service from three before teachers get tenure, and linked pay and job security to performance.

The results are striking: The share of fourth-graders performing at or above basic in reading increased to 67% from 60% while the percentage rated proficient in math rose by 10 points. Tennessee fourth-graders, who have historically trailed their national peers by five to seven points, closed the gap in both subjects.

Other states that have led in school reform also exhibited measurable progress. Indiana—which removed its cap on charter enrollment, expanded vouchers and instituted merit pay in 2011—demonstrated the third highest growth. The climb in scores that began early last decade with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's push for higher standards and greater accountability has continued.

Such states are case studies in how education reforms boost student achievement. Maybe politicians from states with failing grades should take a field trip

Spinning America's Report Card

The latest education test scores don't match the White House rhetoric.

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Paul E. Peterson and Eric A. Hanushek |

Nov. 7, 2013 6:14 p.m. ET  ::  ObamaCare isn't the only thing the Obama administration is spinning these days. In education, too, accomplishments on the ground don't match the rhetoric coming out of Washington. That's the main take-away from the latest results on student performance in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which the Education Department released on Thursday after some delay.

According to administration officials, the NAEP results are cause for celebration. Talking to reporters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan enthused: "The fact that we're seeing the strongest performance in the history of the NAEP is . . . just a tremendous testament to the courage and leadership of our teachers and school leaders and the tremendous hard work of our students themselves." The headline of the department's news release about the nation's report card echoed the secretary's spirit, announcing that such substantial progress is being made that the "percentage of students in grades 4 and 8 scoring proficient . . . [is] higher than in the 1990s."

What you won't hear from the Education Department is that most of these student gains happened under the Bush administration thanks to the enforcement of the federal accountability law No Child Left Behind, as well as various other state accountability systems.

From 2009-2013, fourth-graders, who have had the full "benefit" of the Obama administration's nonenforcement of No Child Left Behind, improved by two points in math and just one point in reading. During those four years, eighth-graders moved up one point in math and three points in reading. Overall, those gains average out to less than a half point per year.

Compare that with the previous decade (2000-09), during which average annual gains in the two subjects at both grade levels were twice as large as those registered in the last four years. In fourth-grade math, for example, scores climbed by 14 points between 2000 and 2009, whereas over the past four years they rose just two points.

Enlarge Image

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Getty Images

None of this should come as a surprise to those who have observed this White House's fitful stops and starts in education. Instead of working with a divided Congress, as President Bush did to enact No Child Left Behind in 2002, the Obama administration has submitted the vaguest of legislative plans. The administration declined to renew or strengthen Mr. Bush's law and stopped enforcing most of it, instead dumping more than $100 billion dollars from the 2009 and 2010 stimulus packages into an inefficient, stagnant education system. Washington has now granted waivers to 37 states exempting them from nearly all of the provisions of No Child Left Behind.

The administration's most concerted attempt at school reform has been a potpourri of "Race to the Top" initiatives. These efforts require states to promise much in the way of school reform, but leave the department without the legal tools necessary to make sure those promises will be fulfilled. The administration-backed call for Common Core State Standards, which establish national benchmarks for each grade level, is most notable for setting a new set of utopian goals: All students are to reach the highest international standards.

What level of proficiency students will be expected to attain and by what deadline remain unknown. The most immediate consequence of the Common Core has been to give teachers unions an opportunity to insist upon a lengthy accountability moratorium. California has already passed a law putting such a moratorium into effect.

Our research shows that the improvements made under the high accountability years of Mr. Bush kept American students within reach of their international competitors. Now, when a gain of one point is celebrated as progress, there is a real possibility that the U.S. will drop further in the international rankings when the next test results are released in December.

The white-black test score gap—which during the previous decade had narrowed by 10 points in reading and six points in math among fourth-graders—has over the past four years not budged an inch closer in reading and has actually opened by a point in math to 26 points. At the eighth-grade level, the gap remains 25 points wide in reading and 31 points wide in math, within a point or two of where it was in 2009. This is the record of an administration that promised to promote education equality for all.

Among Hispanics, fourth-grade test score gains under the Obama administration have been just one point in math and two points in reading. Only at the eighth grade level do we see some signs of the progress: In both reading and math, test scores have improved by six points.

School accountability is not a cure-all that can transform American education on its own. Yet students had been showing modest progress when a federal accountability system was being enforced. Contrary to what the White House claims, progress for American children came to a halt when the Obama administration stopped focusing on student test scores and effectively gutted No Child Left Behind.

Mr. Peterson is a professor at Harvard University, where he directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance. He and Mr. Hanushek are senior fellows at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. With Ludger Woessmann, they are the authors of "Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School" (Brookings, 2013).

How States Present—and Spin—NAEP Scores for the Public

By Andrew Ujifusa in State EdWatch - Education Week


November 7, 2013 3:56 PM  ::  The big news of Nov. 7 was the release of scores in reading and math for 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the "Nation's Report Card".

In addition to the nation's performance overall, the results were broken down for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As some of my Education Week colleagues have pointed out, Tennessee and the District have been lauded by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others for their particularly strong performance on the NAEP.

But what about other states? How does states' rhetoric about their students' performance compare with their actual performance and their score gains (or lack thereof?) Let's look at a few examples.

California: In a Nov. 7 statement about the NAEP results, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that the state's students made "major gains" on the assessments. He highlighted California's 8th graders, who he said made the biggest score gains on the reading exam in the country from 2011 to 2013. And state Board of Education Chairman Michael W. Kirst also chimed in, saying the state's scores "climbed in nearly all the tested areas" in addition to that 8th grade reading exam.

Torlakson's right when he says that California's 8th graders improved the most on the reading test—their performance improved by 7 points, from 255 to 262. (NAEP tests are on a scale score of 500.) But that's the only "major gain" to speak of for California. Although 4th graders improved in reading by 1 point (up to 213) and 8th graders did so in math by 3 points (up to 276), neither of those score gains were deemed statistically significant according to the NAEP's standards. That may be due to sample size and the characteristics of the students being tested, among other factors. And in 4th-grade math, California's score declined by 1 point to 234, although that decrease also wasn't deemed statistically significant.

The department does mention specific score changes in the latter half of its press release, but doesn't point out that aside from the 8th-grade reading tests, those changes aren't statistically significant.

So Torlakson wasn't wholly inaccurate when he trumpeted "major gains." But he didn't explain what that meant, and didn't mention that only on one test did California students make a major gain.

Texas: In a press release, the state education agency reported that Texas' 4th and 8th graders beat the national average on the math exams. This is true, although 4th graders beat the national average of 241 by only a point, while 8th graders beat the national average by 4 points.

What the release doesn't mention is any improvement. That's because overall, there wasn't any in Texas. Or at least there wasn't any statistically significant improvement among any of the four tests in question from 2011 to 2013. Texas 4th graders in reading and 8th graders in math actually declined by 1 and 2 points, respectively—however, neither of these declines were deemed statistically significant. The Texas agency also focuses in great detail on how several racial groups of students in the state performed better than their counterparts nationwide. (Kentucky took a similar approach—its state education department highlighted where its students beat the national average, but none of its scores declined or improved in a statistically significant way. Kentucky did provide charts with exact scores in its press release.)

Massachusetts: This state has been a longtime NAEP powerhouse. It made news Thursday because its 4th graders' performance on the reading exam dipped by 4 points, down to 232. That tied for the  largest statistically significant score dip on any one test—Montana and Oklahoma also had 4-point declines in on 8th-grade math. The rest of Massachusetts' score changes weren't statistically insignificant.

What does the state education department say? It highlights the fact that Massachusetts students "lead the nation in reading and mathematics performance for the fifth consecutive time." Now, further down in that press release, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester does mention that the 4th-grade reading score is "a cause for concern." Chester says the state is upgrading its curriculum, and also mentions that the state is "fully implementing" the Common Core State Standards in schools this year.

Only one state, Montana, saw statistically significant score declines on two of the four exams, in 4th grade reading (down 2 points to 223) and 8th grade math (down 4 points to 289). I haven't seen any official statement from thet state's Office of Public Instruction on Montana's scores, but will update this post if I do.

Photo: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam compliments a group of 6th graders on Thursday at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis, Tenn., after Tennessee scored high on National Assessment of Educational Progress Tests. The students were at work learning about electrical current. (Kyle Kurlick/The Commercial Appeal/AP)

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