Indiana had a pretty good bump in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that were released last week. Who gets the credit? It’s unanimous.
- Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz: “This is yet another sign of the hard work and dedication exhibited by our educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students.”
- Former state Superintendent Tony Bennett (via Twitter): “Indiana’s educators and students should be very proud of NAEP results. Your hard work is paying off!”
- House Education Committee chairman Robert Behning: The gain “validates that we have a lot of great teachers.”
If only they had stopped there. Bennett and others also pointed to the policy changes that he pushed in Indiana. “I think the policy framework we put in place afforded schools the opportunity to expect more of children, and I applaud the fact our children have answered that call,” he told Chalkbeat Indiana.
Most of those polices are just now being implemented, or they’re on too small a scale to have a noticeable impact on NAEP scores – with one exception: The requirement that third-graders pass a reading test, called IREAD-3, to be promoted to fourth grade. About 10 percent of third-graders didn’t pass in 2011-12, the first year the test was given. Presumably most were held back and weren’t included in the sample of fourth-graders that took the NAEP exam the next year.
So, yes, exclude the worst test-takers, and you’d expect average scores to rise a bit.
And it was among fourth-graders that Indiana saw NAEP scores improve. Hoosier eighth-graders, also tested, didn’t make the same gains. Florida, the model for Indiana’s policy, had a similar experience when it implemented test-based retention in 2002-03.
Of course this doesn’t mean retaining children is a good idea. Research is mixed, but some studies find the initial test-score gains from retention fade over time. And retention has been linked to a higher likelihood of quitting school and other problems.
Probably the real story about the NAEP results is that they’re much ado about not very much. Indiana University professor Peter Kloosterman, who has followed NAEP for years, observes that the state samples are small, and year-to-year changes aren’t as significant as they’re often made out to be. Closer study will be needed to get hints about which students’ scores improved, and why.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate this year’s good news and praise our teachers and students – as long as we don’t blame them if scores level off the next time around.