Tag: national assessment of educational progress

New National Test Results Released Today

The U.S. Department of Education has just released 2013 results for the National Assessment of Educational Progress—aka, “The Nation’s Report Card.” The scores are for 12th grade reading and mathematics, and neither has changed since the last time they were administered a few years ago. But of course what we really want to know is how well students are performing today compared to those of a generation or two ago. That would tell us if our education system were improving, staying the same, or declining in performance.

The trouble is, “The Nation’s Report Card” doesn’t go back very far.  The reading results reach back to 1992 (since which time, there has been a slight but statistically significant decline), but the math results only reach back to 2005 (since which time, there’s been a slight but statistically significant increase). It’s just not that long of a time period to assess trends.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a different set of NAEP tests, called the “Long Term Trends” series, that reached back all the way to the early 1970s! And wouldn’t it be even better if we could find out how much we’ve spent per pupil over that same time period, so that we could figure out if our schools are getting more or less efficient with our dollars? Well, what do you know, there is, and we can!

But here’s the thing. Some people look at that national trend chart and think: but my state is doing much better than that! Is it? Is it really? I decided to find out, for all fifty states. The result is my recent, mysteriously-titled paper: State Education Trends. Drop by and check out how your state has done over the past 40 years.

[Note to readers: The state charts look at changes in annual per pupil spending over time, whereas the national chart above looks at the change over time in the total cost of a full K-through-12 education, so the spending trend lines are not directly comparable].

NCLB a Barrier, Not an Aid

Sandy Kress, former Bush administration official and architect of NCLB, took issue last Friday with my post criticizing the law. Today, education writer Rishawn Biddle publishes and expands on Kress’ critique. Sandy’s objection was that Idaho, one of the states planning to start ignoring the law, isn’t performing well academically and so “is hardly a poster child for arguing against a federal role.”

As it happens, I wasn’t using Idaho—or any “poster child”—to make the case against against NCLB. I was using the experiences of real children. More specifically, I was using the performance of nationally representative samples of students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long Term Trends tests. The LTTs for students near the end of high school are the best gauge we have of the performance of the nation’s public schools over time. The stagnation and decline in those results across subjects are not the only evidence or argument against NCLB, but they are compelling.

Rishawn offers little in the way of argument or evidence to support his own comments, but one of them is nevertheless worth responding to because it represents a common view that is not only wrong but exactly backwards: the notion that NCLB helps to advance the kind of market reforms that actually work. Au contraire.

The state tests NCLB focuses on are all but worthless for comparing states to one another or for determining trends over time, so the law tells us considerably less than we could already discover from the NAEP.  NCLB has, however, been an epic, expensive distraction, pulling the efforts of countless activists, policymakers and educators away from the market reforms that work and consuming their time arguing about the details of a policy that never had a sound research base to support it and still does not. Adding insult to injury, NCLB exacerbated the unconstitutional overreach of its earlier form, the ESEA. If NCLB worked better and more efficiently than alternative policies, and had no deleterious side effects, I would be all for amending the Constitution to allow it. It doesn’t.

So no, NCLB is not an aid to meaningful reform. It is a barrier. The sooner we get over it, the better.

Should We Spend More on Failed Programs?

Last month, I testified before the House Education & the Workforce Committee. The most startling part of that experience was the response to my testimony offered by ranking Democrat George Miller (who had chaired the committee in the previous Congress.) The archived web-cast is now available, and Rep. Miller’s response begins at 42:29.

To set things up: I reported that the federal government has spent $2 trillion dollars on k-12 schooling over the past two generations, and failed to achieve either of its avowed goals (raising overall achievement, and narrowing the gaps by family income and minority status). To this, Rep. Miller replied:

I think when you look at student performance and you look at money and you want to say that somehow there should be some correlation there I think that’s wrong-headed.

Really? I know that Democrats support higher government spending than libertarians and conservatives, but it’s always been my understanding that they do this because they imagine the extra spending will actually accomplish something. I have never before heard anyone suggest that we should spend more taxpayer money without any expectation that spending is correlated with outcomes. I can’t believe that Rep. Miller’s view is widely shared by American voters—even by those who voted for him.

The congressman also made what I took to be an effort to undermine the test data I had presented, saying that “After No Child Left Behind, millions of people were added to the test pool that were left out before.”

With respect to the National Assessment of Educational Progress test score trends I presented during my testimony, this statement is incorrect. The NAEP Long Term Trends results have always been based on nationally representative samples of students and to my knowledge NCLB did not affect those sampling procedures in any way. I can only guess that Rep. Miller was referring to the NCLB’S effect on student participation in state tests, but if so his comment is not germane.

Congress really has spent 2 trillion taxpayer dollars and achieved neither of its avowed k-12 goals. Cutting these ineffective programs would save scores of billions annually.

NAEP: If the Scores Don’t Rise, You Must Revise!

New science test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress were released today, and they’re not comparable to the scores for earlier years. You may want to know whether our schools are getting better or worse over time in this subject, but apparently the federal government is more ambivalent.

There are actually two different flavors of the NAEP tests: the Long Term Trends (which stay the same over time so that we can see, well, trends), and the “Nation’s Report Card,” which can be redesigned whenever it is absolutely… convenient.

But here’s the thing: the NAEP Long Term Trends science test has not been administered since 1999, when it showed that a statistically significant decline in achievement had taken place at the end of high school since the test began in 1974 (see the chart below). If there’s an official reason for its discontinuation, I’m not aware of it.

The “Nation’s Report Card” science test that was administered in 1996, 2000, and 2005 also showed a statistically significant decline over that period at the end of high school. Today America learns that that test has been discontinued, too. The new “Report Card” science test is not comparable to the earlier one, so now we have no national measure of science trends at all.

Maybe there’s an excellent reason why the federal government no longer wants to measure trends in science  achievement, but if there is, I suspect it’s political rather than educational.

New NAEP Scores Confirm ‘F’ in Feds

The recent elections made one thing very clear: Americans want a cheaper, smaller, more effective federal government. Today we have powerful evidence that a terrific place to start giving them that is education. New National Assessment of Educational Progress – so-called “Nation’s Report Card” – scores are out, and despite years of massive increases in federal education spending, as well as nearly a decade of No Child Left Behind “accountability,” stagnation is what we’ve gotten. Reading scores for 12th graders – our schools’ final products – are lower than they were in 1998 and 1992. In math all we have is a slight bump between 2005 and 2009, and no data before that because NAEP changed its math framework, making today’s results essentially meaningless. Looking at other NAEP tests – notably the long-term trends exam that tracks from the early 1970s – overall math achievement is almost certainly as lifeless as reading.

The Constitution gives Washington no authority to govern or fund American education, which is reason enough to get the feds out of our schools. If that doesn’t do it for you, however, that federal meddling has produced nothing but expensive failure should clinch it: It’s time to listen to voters and get Washington out of education.

First to the “Top”

Congratulations Delaware and Tennessee – you’ve won the Race to the Top beauty contest! Of course, the grading was subjective and will be disputed by lots of states that haven’t won. Well, haven’t won yet – there’s a second round to this, remember.

So what do the victories for Delaware and Tennessee mean? The edu-pundits will no doubt be reading deep into the results over the coming days, trying to determine what they portend for the future of RttT, federal education policy generally, and politicians across the country.  And there are some juicy political leads worth following, including the possibility that the winning states were chosen because they have Republican congress members who could be pivotal in getting bipartisan support for the administration’s No Child Left Behind reauthorization plans.  

All of this, though, will ultimately miss by far the biggest point about RttT: The most beautiful promises and laws mean nothing unless they are implemented, and history offers little reason to believe that even the finest parts of the RttT winners’ applications will be brought to bear.

Despite over forty years of federal education interventions, and nearly two decades of state-level standards-and-accountability reforms, academic achievement has stagnated. Long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in mathematics and reading for our schools’ “final products” – high-school seniors – have been almost completely flat since the early 1970s, and fourth and eighth-grade “main NAEP” reading scores released just last week demonstrate the same awful trend since the early 1990s. This despite a 123-percent increase in real, per-pupil funding since 1970.  

Quite simply, no degree of legislative tinkering within the system has produced lasting improvements because those who would be held to high standards – teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats – have by far the most political clout in education, and they’ve hollowed out anything “tough” that’s been tried. The only thing that will move us powerfully forward – as extensive research on educational freedom demonstrates – is empowering parents to bypass education politics by freely choosing schools that have the autonomy needed to compete and innovate.

Unfortunately, that kind of reform wouldn’t gain a state so much as a point in the Race to the Top. And the limited choice – charter schools – that could get a state some points? According to the Center for Education Reform, Delaware only gets a B for its charter school law – a grade based generally on how free and competitive charter schools can be – while Tennessee gets an atrocious mark of D.

There’s nothing beautiful about that.

Bad News for the Education Standards Crowd

Despite nearly two decades of state and federal standards-and-testing, as well as big increases in spending, today’s reading results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the so-called “Nation’s Report Card” – continue to tell a tale of stagnation.  Nationally, the average fourth-grade score was 217 (out of 500) in 1992. In 2009 it was only 221. For eighth grade, the average score in 1992 was 260. In 2009 it was just 264. Oh, and eighth-graders had hit 264 by 1998, which means there hasn’t been even a smidgen of improvement since then.

“But,” will say the standardizers, “the problem is that we just haven’t set really high standards and been unrelenting in forcing schools to meet them.” You know, we haven’t been like Massachusetts, which has shown the rest of the nation the way.

Think again. It turns out there very well might be a Massachusetts Mirage.

The average eighth grade score in the Bay State went up just one, tiny point between 2007 and 2009, going from 273 to 274, and it has been stuck around 273 since 2003. Worse yet, in fourth grade the average score dropped from 236 to 234 between 2007 and 2009, and the Bay State had hit 234 as early as 2002.    

Now, can we tell definitively from either the national or Massachusetts scores that centralized standards-and-accountability regimes don’t work? Nope. There are far too many variables involved in education, from child nutrition to the weather on test day, to make such a pronouncement. But we can say that those who are trying to sell us centralized control of education had also better not point to national scores, or scores in the sainted state of Massachusetts, as any kind of evidence that centralized standards-and testing works.

I’m not getting my hopes up.