Study shows test score improvements
This post was written by Jack Jennings, president and chief operating officer of the Center on Education Policy, an independent nonprofit organization that advocates for better public education. From 1967 to 1994, he served as subcommittee staff director and then as general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.
By Jack Jennings
An exhaustive study of five years of assessment trends shows that U.S. 4th and 8th graders are doing better in reading and math than they were in 2005. And that’s not just according to the states’ own tests used for No Child Left Behind accountability, but also according to the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tracks national and state-by-state progress in key subjects.
This finding comes from the latest report of a careful independent study of state test score trends, now in its fourth year, by the Center on Education Policy. We analyzed trends from 2005 through 2009 because longer spans are less subject to random yearly fluctuations in test scores.
We also compared the percentages of students scoring at or above “proficient” on state tests with the percentages scoring “basic” on NAEP because NAEP’s definition of basic performance is closer to most state definitions of proficiency than NAEP’s aspirational definition of proficiency is.
We found that in the 23 states with comparable test data for 2005 through 2009—meaning states that haven’t made major changes in their tests—many more states showed gains on state tests and on NAEP than showed declines. This finding matters because some people are quick to dismiss state test scores as being overly optimistic and subject to “score inflation."
But the fact that NAEP confirms the upward trends on state tests in most states with data suggests that students have acquired greater mastery of important knowledge and skills in reading and math. That’s the goal of NCLB and state reforms, and teachers and students have made this happen to some extent.
Our latest report also found that the size of these increases were sometimes, though not always, larger on state tests than on NAEP. While score inflation is likely a factor on some state tests, it’s also likely that the results differ because the content of NAEP is not intentionally aligned to any state’s standards for leaning.
Conversely, states have taken many steps to better align their test content with what’s actually being taught in classrooms, and students are more motivated to try their best on the high-stakes state tests than on the no-stakes NAEP assessments. In fact, only a sample of students takes the NAEP assessment.
In short, rather than treating NAEP as more “credible” than state tests, educators and policymakers should view results from both assessments in tandem. When trends on NAEP confirm those on state tests in the same state, then people can have more confidence that achievement is actually improving (or declining as the case may be).
When trends on the two assessments conflict in the same state, then people need to be cautious and explore the reasons why this is so.
Although our study suggests things are moving in the right direction, many changes are needed in federal and state policy to speed up the pace of improvement and close achievement gaps.
We also recognize that tests and test-driven accountability have their limitations, and that other types of measures should be part of a comprehensive system to judge the progress of schools. Still, let’s take encouragement from the progress that’s been made while we consider how to do better.
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| September 16, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Research, Standardized Tests | Tags: center on education progress, jack jenningers, study on test scores, test scores, test scores increase, test scores rising, test scores up
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