Indiana NAEP gains may be misleading

Indiana’s eighth-grade reading scores appear to be a bright spot in the mostly drab results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. But on closer inspection, maybe not.

Indiana was one of 10 states that boosted eighth-grade reading scores between 2015 and 2017. But the improvement may be misleading, Indiana University professor Sarah Theule Lubienski said. Grade-retention policies that Indiana implemented five years earlier may have removed the lowest-achieving students from the group, leaving a stronger-than-normal class.

“I’d like to think this is a real gain, that the students in eighth grade were reading better,” said Lubienski, a professor of math education and an expert on NAEP. “But I worry we may have just lost our most struggling readers in that cohort.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, given every two years to a sample of students in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, measures math and reading performance in fourth and eighth grades. At the national level, the latest scores changed little from 2015.

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NAEP results win praise for Indiana teachers and students

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.  Continue reading

Putting a good face on NAEP results

It was refreshing to see Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett taking a glass-is-half-full approach to reporting Indiana’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. A state Department of Education news release pointed out that Indiana students continued to score above the national average on NAEP, also called the Nation’s Report Card. “Our educators, students and parents should be encouraged by these results,” Bennett said.

Of course this year’s results are little different from the previous NAEP scores for 2009. And Gov. Mitch Daniels, in his 2011 State of the State address, used those scores to argue that Indiana schools were failing and in need of drastic reform. Daniels claimed that “only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam” and that Hoosier students “trail far behind most states and even more foreign countries on measures like excellence in math …”

About one-third of Indiana students score “proficient” on NAEP, but that doesn’t mean the rest of them don’t pass. According to education historian Diane Ravitch, a former member of the NAEP board, proficient is equivalent to an A or a strong B+ on the exam.

NAEP tests a representative sample of fourth-graders and eighth-graders in math and reading. Indiana fourth-graders did pretty well in math: Their average score was 4 points higher than the national average, they significantly trailed students in only six states, and fully 87 percent scored at the “basic” or higher level – essentially a passing score.

In the other areas, fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math and reading, Indiana was right in the middle –- we trail many, but not most, of the other states.

There are some reasons for seeing the glass as half empty, however. Average scores for black and Hispanic students continued to be significantly lower than those for non-Hispanic whites. Only 44 percent of black fourth-graders, for example, scored at basic or higher in reading, compared to 74 percent of white fourth-graders. Most discouraging, the test-score gaps between whites and minorities, and between middle-class and poor, have changed little since the 1990s.

There he goes again

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gives an inspirational speech, and you almost want to believe him when he says his call for school reform is rooted in “a love for the children whose very lives and futures depend on the quality of the learning they either do or do not acquire while in our schools.”

The changes he is proposing – performance-based evaluation of teachers, restrictions on the power of teachers’ unions, even vouchers for parents who can’t afford private school tuition – are worth an honest debate. But it doesn’t help when the governor keeps repeating myths and half-truths, as he did in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Once again he made this claim: “Teacher quality has been found to be 20 times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed.” As School Matters reported last week, the statement simply isn’t true.

And again he said the following: “Only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam.” The truth is that about one in three Hoosier eighth-graders score “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. A proficient score, according to former NAEP advisory board member Diane Ravitch, is “equivalent to an A or a very strong B,” not a minimal passing grade.

We’ll let others fact-check the governor’s claims about taxes and job creation. But when it comes to education, he keeps bending the truth.