Major test shows little improvement by nation’s students. How did Ohio do?

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress were released this week.
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Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress were released this week.

A nationwide test that education analysts use to benchmark K-12 progress showed little change from results of two years ago, but gaps between the highest and lowest scorers grew wider.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is taken by a relatively small number of students in fourth, eighth and 12th grade, but uses a nationally representative sample repeated over multiple years to allow for comparison.

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Results of the 2017 reading and math exams taken by fourth and eighth-graders were released this week and had many analysts frustrated by a lack of improvement. The average reading score for the nation’s eighth-graders increased slightly compared with 2015, but there were no statistically significant changes for fourth-grade reading, or for mathematics at either grade.

“I’m pleased that eighth-grade reading scores improved slightly but remain disappointed that only about one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students read at the NAEP Proficient level,” said former Michigan governor John Engler, the chair of the National Assessment Governing Board. “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students. We must do better for all children.”

Ohio results

As in past years, Ohio scored at or narrowly above the national average on all four 2017 tests. By NAEP data standards, there was no significant change in Ohio’s 2017 scores compared to the last version of these tests in 2015.

Ohio’s fourth-grade math score was down three points from 2015, while the eighth-grade math score was up three points. The fourth-grade reading score was flat, while eighth-grade reading was up three points.

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Taken over a broader, 10-year view, Ohio’s scores on both reading tests are flat from 2007 to 2017. In math, Ohio’s score is down four points in fourth-grade math (a statistically significant change), but up three points in eighth-grade math.

“While Ohio continues to rank in the top half of states on achievement, the state can’t afford to remain stuck in neutral,” said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy at the Fordham Institute. “Over the past few years, Ohio policy makers have wavered on result-driven accountability. The NAEP data indicate an urgent need to refocus on strong accountability for outcomes in math and reading, pursue bold reforms that can allow schools to focus first and foremost on student learning, and ensure that all students have the necessary supports for success.”

Gaps get wider

NAEP officials said national math and reading scores showed a growing gap between the highest- and lowest-scoring students when compared to 2015. Scores in both subjects were higher for eighth-graders performing at the 75th and 90th percentiles and lower for fourth-graders performing at the 10th and 25th percentiles than they were in 2015.

John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust, which focuses on improving education for poor and minority students, called the growing gaps “profoundly concerning.”

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“Achievement gaps are without question a result of opportunity gaps — deeply troubling inequities that mean in many places throughout the country students who need the most from our education system continue to get less,” King said. “Students who need the most get less access to equitable resources, less access to effective and diverse teachers, less access to a well-rounded curriculum, less access to school counselors, and less access to essential supports outside and inside the classroom.”

Several education organizations used the results to advocate for changes their groups often push, with the American Federation of Teachers arguing for better school funding, and the National Council on Teacher Quality citing a “disconnect between the preparation teachers get and the real demands of teaching.”

But there is little consensus on what mix of changing standards, different funding, new curriculum, better teaching, and family support will actually lead to improvement in scores by American students.