Why Grade 12 test scores are even worse than they appear
National reading and math test scores for 12e– the binders look bad – and they are even worse than they appear. Rather than wringing their hands, policy makers need to sound the alarm bells about prevalent teaching methods that are not backed by science.
At first glance, results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for High School Students, released yesterday, is sobering but not too much. Overall, reading scores are down slightly from the last test given, in 2015, and math scores have not changed significantly. Of course, it would be nice if the assessment actually showed educational “progress” – rather than stagnation – but we have grown accustomed to seeing little or nothing of it.
Dig deeper, however, and, as usual, the image becomes darker. Basically, the rich get richer – not only in terms of wealth or income, but also in the knowledge and skills measured by tests – and the poor get poorer. Students are divided into five “percentile” groups based on their score. Those in the 90se percentile (top performers) stayed the same or increased slightly compared to 30 years ago. Those with the lowest percentiles, who are disproportionately low-income people, and blacks or Hispanics, have seen significant declines.
Students are also ranked according to their NAEP level of achievement: lower than basic, elementary, proficient, or advanced. There has been little change since 2015 in the top two categories: 24% achieved higher or higher proficiency in math and 37% in reading. But there has been a slight drop in the base category – and a corresponding increase in those who below basic. In mathematics, 40% of students obtained marks below the basic level; in reading, the figure was 30% -a higher figure than for the previous 12e-NAEP assessment.
This overall stagnation and decline – and the widening gap between top and bottom performers –mirrors recent NAEP test results for 4e and 8e graders. But the scores released yesterday drew little attention compared to last year’s 4e and 8e quality results. The New York Times apparently did not cover the 12e-history at all. Maybe we’re just getting used to disappointing test results, or maybe it’s because, unlike testing for lower levels, the 12e– Score results are not broken down by state, eliminating the element of comparison and competition. But it is surely even more alarming that so many graduating seniors cannot read or do math at expected levels that so many young students cannot, given that high school is our last chance to reach them. .
In the past, the scores of younger students increased, but everything seemed to fall apart in high school – and the question was why. Since last year, stagnant or falling grades have become normal for the course at all levels. But the question is always why.
Those administering the test do not provide many answers. Peggy Carr, the head of the NAEP responsible for delivering the sad news every year or two, basically just shrug. Yesterday she call for more researched the “pattern of decline among lower performing students,” and said “we can’t be sure” why the gap between them and the top performing students is widening. The only explanation she gave was that fewer students drop out of high school, so there are even more low-performing students in 12.e note to pass the test. This, she said, “this is a good thing.”
But the researchers to have found no evidence to support the theory that lower dropout rates are a significant factor in lower high school test scores. And even if that was the explanation, it is not a “good thing” that we are getting degrees that are far behind what they should be academically. Perhaps we are just claim to educate many students, so that high school diplomas mean less than before. This is supported by NAEP data showing that higher percentages of students report taking more advanced courses without doing better on tests. Classes titled “Trigonometry” or “AP English” may not mean much if most students are not prepared for the job.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for her part, expressed alarm on the results but offered no analysis. Education officials, she said, must “pivot and try something new to avoid another lost generation.” As teachers can attest, education officials are always “Try something new.” A researcher found that the average urban school system launches three or four major reform initiatives each year. Few of these efforts have much effect. Is there “something new” that could make a difference?
Yes there is. While Carr called for more research, there is already a a whole body of scientific knowledge about how people learn, which could improve the results of all students and reduce the gap between test scores. But few teachers are aware of this and it rarely shows up in classroom practice.
Part of this science has to do with helping students retain and analyze information, things like recovery practice, which forces students to remember information that they have slightly forgotten. However, there is well-established evidence on how children learn to read, both in terms of sound words and understand what they mean. Because many teachers are neither aware of this evidence nor receive teaching materials that reflect it, students who start behind in terms of skills and knowledge are usually more and more back their most favored comrades each year, they stay in school. By the time they reach high school they are often so late that it can be a herculean task to catch up with them.
Of course, the test results alone don’t tell us all of this. They simply indicate that whatever we summer do not work. But officials like Carr could link the test results to the gap between classroom practice and existing research. The federal government has no control over things like education and curriculum, but it could at least educate the public about the problem.
State-level and local-level change is more doable, and it’s already starting to happen. Mississippi, for example, recently managed to raise its dismal 4e-Assess reading scores, apparently by familiarizing teachers with the science of reading at the word level. In other places, schools implement recently developed elementary school curricula that also provide children with the kind of knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand the texts they will be required to read on tests and higher levels – knowledge and vocabulary that children of families more educated acquire at home.
This localized change is slowly spreading and it is too late for high school students who took the NAEP last year – 61% of them said they applied or were accepted by a four-year college, although only 37% did. be. ready for college work. Maybe in five or ten years these local efforts will produce results. But if 12e-Quality test results continue to be reported only for the whole country, rather than for individual states or districts, it will be difficult to tell what works and what doesn’t.