Today the results from the 2013 NAEP came out, and ‘reformers’ everywhere are celebrating the amazing gains by states with an aggressive reform agenda. In 2011, the average national score for the four main NAEP tests (4th grade reading, 4th grade math, 8th grade reading, and 8th grade math) was about a 250, with the total of the four scores being 1006. For 2013 the sum of these four scores, nationally, increased by 5 points to 1011. But some states increased by more than 5 points, as shown on this graph that was shared often on Twitter.
This shows that the places with the greatest gains were D.C., Tennessee, and Indiana, three places that have embraced the corporate reform strategy of testing, closing down schools, and opening charters. If this was the only data we had access to, it would seem to prove that “the ends justify the means” when it comes to education reform.
Scores do fluctuate from year to year, so part of me would like to just ignore this and wait for two more years when the scores likely do not continue to grow this way, but with all that is going on around the country so quickly I don’t have the luxury of waiting two years. What I can do, though, is put the growth scores into some context by examining more of the raw data.
Though for the nation, the average sum of the four scores in 2013 was 1011, I noticed that the combined four scores for D.C., even with their 22 point gain, was just a 947 which was 64 points below the national average. Curious to see where that put them in comparison to other states, I made this chart.
As can be seen, this puts D.C. in last place, way behind the second-to-last Mississippi.
But, ‘reformers’ could say, is it fair to compare the results of a city with the results of entire states since the students in D.C. have, on average, more out of school issues to deal with than the average student in a state.
So what I did next was isolate the scores of the students who are eligible for free lunch in each of the states and in D.C.. This, I think, is a more fair ‘apples to apples’ comparison.
Again, D.C. is way behind, their students eligible for free lunch having a combined total of 913, which is 49 points below the national average for students eligible for free lunch. Tennessee has fared better, but still below the national average.
Finally, I looked at how the infamous D.C. ‘achievement gap’ was doing comparing test scores of students eligible for free lunch with students who were not eligible. Again, D.C. finished last by a wide margin with a 157 point gap.
There are many other things to analyze, and I’m looking forward to reading how others analyze the data. For example, it is curious that Louisiana had ‘gains’ that were smaller than the national average despite that state having, certainly, the most aggressive reforms occurring. For ‘reformers’ who are so obsessed with test scores and test score gains, this is certainly something that shouldn’t be ignored. Also, Washington and Hawaii were pretty high up on the ‘growth’ numbers even though Washington does not have charter schools and Hawaii has been very slow to adopt Race To The Top reforms so their ‘gains’ can’t be attributed to those.
I’m still pretty confident that in the long run education reform based primarily on putting pressure on teachers and shutting down schools for failing to live up to the PR of charter schools will not be good for kids or for the country, in general. I hope politicians won’t accept the first ‘gains’ chart without putting it into context with the rest of the data.