NAEP, Tennessee, and Poverty

Elaine Weiss, from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, posts some thoughts on recent NAEP scores and what they do (and don’t) indicate for Tennessee education.

Here are some highlights:

1. No Correlation Between Race to the Top Reform and NAEP Gains:

Exaggeration about NAEP scores, however, has largely trumped reason. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has claimed that the bump is the result of newfound “honesty” with teachers about achievement gaps, and of their evaluation based on student test scores under the federal Race to the Top initiative. If that were the case, we should see similar increases across other states implementing similar policies under RTTT. We do not. Rather, we see a random assortment of increases — in Tennessee and Washington, DC, but also in Iowa and Washington, which did not implement the same reforms — and unimpressive results in states like Colorado and Louisiana, both of which employ test-based evaluation systems.

2. Achievement Gaps Grew During “Reform” Implementation:

And if Race to the Top were “succeeding,” we should see achievement gaps shrink — after all, its reforms target disadvantaged students in particular. What we saw in Tennessee was the opposite — achievement gaps grew between students who do and do not qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch, a sizeable group in the state. Poor students fell further behind their more advantaged peers in both reading and math in 4th grade and in 8th grade math these past two years. Both fourth grade gaps widened by six points. In other words, if RTTT has had an impact on NAEP scores, it seems to be further boosting the existing advantage of white and higher-income students, not the disadvantaged ones it purports to help.

3. Investment in Teachers and Pre-K Seems to Trump “Reform” for Gap Closure

Huffman also ignores slow-but-steady NAEP gains over the past two decades in neighboring Kentucky, a state that refuses to use test scores to evaluate teachers, has no charter schools, and invests more than Tennessee in its teachers and its pre-kindergarten programs. Kentucky’s gains accrue to students who need them most — its poor students post smaller gaps than Tennessee’s in three of four categories.

For more on education policy in the states, follow @TheAndySpears


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One Response to “NAEP, Tennessee, and Poverty”

  1. Hunter February 20, 2014 at 2:45 am # Reply

    You’re trying to use correlation to tease out causation.

    I certainly read text from Duncan article differently.

    “We don’t know all the reasons why students did better in Tennessee and the District in 2013 than in 2011.”

    “There are important lessons here. What these two places also had in common was a succession of leaders who told educators, parents and the public the truth about educational underperformance and who worked closely with educators to bring about real changes. They pushed hard to raise expectations for students, even though a lower bar would have made everyone look better”

    “To meet those higher standards…”

    “These concepts — developing and supporting the people who do the most important work, using data to inform improvement — are what strong organizations do.”

    He’s mainly attributing gains to higher standards.

    And developing & supporting teachers and using data effectively for students.

    Are those bad things?

    Do you believe NAEP increases are by random chance? That seems to be what you are implying.

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