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Um, Kentucky — and other reactions to the national drop in NAEP scores

Seventh-graders take part in a trial run of a new state assessment test on laptop computers at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 12, 2015. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The 2015 numbers for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and scores are down. In fact, as my Post colleague Emma Brown reports, math scores for fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States dropped this year, for the first time since the federal government began administering the exams in 1990. Eighth-grade scores dropped while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time the test was administered.

[U.S. performance slips on national test]

[What the national decline in NAEP test scores really means]

Here’s reaction to the NAEP scores from various corners of the education world:

Diane Ravitch, president of the Network for Public Education

The decline in NAEP scores is a wake-up call to the nation. It is a clear indication that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have failed to improve our children’s education. Educators have warned for years that the strategy of test-and-punish was a grave error. President George W. Bush launched these so-called reforms, and President Obama built on Bush’s flawed foundation by using test scores to fire teachers and principals and close thousands of public schools. It is past time to abandon the failed Bush-Obama “reforms.”

Neal McCluskey, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute

This morning the latest scores from the 4th and 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress – the so-called Nation’s Report Card – came out, and the story isn’t very good, at least upon first examination. Average scores in 4th and 8th grade math, and in 8th grade reading, were down from 2013, and essentially stagnant in 4th grade reading.
Of course, there is a lot you cannot tell about school systems from looking just at NAEP scores. Numerous variables that affect academic outcomes, ranging from demographic changes to cultural shifts, can have important impacts on scores. But it is sobering to see national test scores stagnate or drop, and at the very least the scores should put a damper on some of the declarations of success we’ve seen in the past from people like U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who in 2013 credited state transitions to the Common Core national curriculum standards for upticks that year.
Perhaps a look at Kentucky, which has been held up as a success story for adopting the Core ahead of all other states and seeing increases on its state tests, is telling. Kentucky may well be seeing improvements, but the NAEP exams, for many people, serve as something of an external audit to see if states’ own tests are producing deceptive information. Of course there can be legitimate disagreements about what test is better – and if testing is even a good way to measures success – but many people who support the Core see state tests as dishonest if they differ markedly in their results from NAEP. So NAEP is important to them. Well, now, while seeing rising scores in 4th grade reading, Kentucky has seen falling scores in 8th grade math and reading, and stagnant scores in 4th grade math. Does that mean the Common Core, or anything else they are doing in Kentucky, necessarily doesn’t work? No. But it does furnish evidence that contradicts the simplistic message of, “Look at Kentucky – the Common Core works!”
There is much that NAEP is too limited to tell us definitively, but the same goes for any single measure of education. And we should be concerned whenever we see scores go down.

Bob Schaeffer, education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest

Scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released today provide more evidence that test-and-punish policies, which have dominated U.S. public schools for the past decade and a half, are an abject failure. The new report shows a decline in mathematics performance and generally flat results in reading.
“Promoters of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and similar test-driven schemes in many states promised significant gains in overall academic achievement. They also said historic performance gaps between racial groups would narrow. According to NAEP, neither desirable result has materialized. In fact, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction. Rhetorical posturing about the need for assessment reform will not help our students, educators, schools or nation. President Obama, U.S. Department of Education leaders, and Congress need to eliminate counter-productive federal testing mandates now. That will clear the path for implementing assessments that actually help improve teaching and learning.

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust

Any way you look at it, today’s NAEP results are sobering. Compared with results from 2013, scores for the nation’s low-income students and students of color mirror those of all other students: mostly flat or declining performance.
While there may be plausible explanations for these patterns — among them the disruptions caused by the transition to new standards — any interruption of the slow but steady progress these groups have made over the past two decades is cause for great concern. With fewer than 1 in 4 low-income students and students of color meeting the proficient or advanced levels, the nation cannot afford anything less than accelerated improvement for these groups, who now make up the majority of our K-12 student body.
Education leaders at the national, state, and local levels must do a clear-eyed assessment of what’s working and what’s not, and redouble efforts to drive improvement for all students, especially our most vulnerable.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten

Of course we are disappointed with the NAEP scores, but they should give pause to anyone who still wishes to double down on austerity and make competition, scapegoating teachers, closing rather than fixing schools, fear, and testing and sanctioning the dominant education strategies.
Sixty years ago, our nation made a commitment in Brown v. Board of Education to school integration, and 50 years ago we committed to federal funding of schools that served underprivileged students. In the years that followed, we saw increased social mobility, increased educational opportunity and, yes, a rise in NAEP scores. But in the past decade, this progress has slowed to a halt. High-stakes testing has eclipsed all else, and the recession caused both a spike in child poverty and a run on austerity. While disaggregated data is important, the big promises made when Congress passed No Child Left Behind and when this administration introduced Race to the Top have gone unfulfilled. Our kids have lost the joy of learning and teachers have lost the latitude to be creative as the focus has simply become test scores and their consequences.
Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence that our kids have suffered, these latest NAEP scores again show that the strategy of testing and sanctioning, coupled with austerity, does not work …

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García

The recent release of the NAEP scores once again demonstrates what educators have said all along. The effectiveness of a system cannot be judged by a single test score. Scores should be viewed in context, over time and, just because a single test scores goes down (or up) it does not represent the complexity of the system or mean good things are not happening.
For example, high school graduation rates have increased, the drop-out rate for Hispanic students has decreased and the number of minority students going to college has been rising. We are more focused than ever on closing the opportunity gaps. The opportunity to learn is the foundation of everything. The NAEP scores are just another piece of the puzzle that provides information we need to ensure all students succeed.
Of course there are issues we need to address. We as a nation haven’t addressed one of the main issues affecting our students’ ability to achieve – the effects of poverty on our students. Over half of our country’s public school children live in poverty. It’s time for our nation to face up to that challenge, and we must start by acknowledging that the effects of poverty are pervasive. Children can’t learn in school if they lack nutritious food, a safe place to sleep or access to health care, and our society must address those needs …

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association

“The headlines today write themselves and cover all the usual angles: Our schools are failing. Our students are failing. We need more tests. We need fewer tests. We need better tests. Common Core is working. Common Core is failing. We need more school choice.
We have had — and continue to engage in — these conversations, all of which have their time and place. But today, in this moment, when NAEP — widely regarded as the Nation’s Report Card — indicates that our students aren’t making the growth and achievement we would expect, perhaps the conversation isn’t about what we are doing as much as what we are not doing. And in this instance, we must consider the extent to which this set of NAEP data was impacted by the significant cuts to education investment at the local, state and federal level stemming from the great recession and held in place by continued poor policy.
When it comes to our nation’s schools and the students they serve, we know that education cuts do not heal. Though we’re past the end of the great recession, education investment has yet to reach pre-recession levels. That means that our nation’s K-7th graders have spent the entirety of their K-12 educational experience to date under a post-recession funding climate, and that our 12th-graders have spent half of their educational experience in that underfunded environment.
In a broader context, the federal share of discretionary spending dedicated to children has dropped by 11.6 percent (adjusted for inflation) since 2010. And while AASA doesn’t advocate unfettered spending as a silver bullet, we also do not deny that investment matters. Adequate funding is a critical component of any serious conversation about boosting student learning and closing achievement gaps, and today’s NAEP data might be one of the first times we are seeing a clear, national narrative highlighting the consequences of our recent education funding policy decisions.

Correction: Fixing spelling of Neal.