In the NAEP Scrum

It’s been almost a week now, and the dust following the release of the latest NAEP scores is just finally starting to settle.  The story varies widely, depending on who you listen to and who you respect on such issues.  This year’s reading and math NAEP scores demonstrate we have greatly improved instruction over the past few years.  Or they show that we have actually taken a step backward.  Progress or regress, it seems.

What is clear is that both math and reading scores have ticked upward, with math performance rising more than reading.  What is even clearer, though, is that we still have much work to do.  The education community is quibbling over the “meaning” of the small rise in reading scores and its implications for the future.  It’s like listening to a faculty senate meeting, focusing on the personal periphery rather than the ultimate outcomes and impact.

But there is a lesson to be found in the stacks of disaggregated data and he said/she said debates.  Set aside all of the rhetoric.  Put away all of the interpretation.  Forget all of the hidden meanings.  What’s left?  A national commitment to boosting student achievement.

For some, the scores were badges of success.  For others, they were indicators of inadequacy.  But for all, the NAEP scores were the tool for determining whether we have demonstrably improved student achievement.  For once, the education industry was focused on outcomes, and not just on the inputs.  We were talking results (or lack there of) and how to further improve those results.

Without question, there is MUCH work that still needs to be done to improve student proficiency in reading and math.  The experts will spend the next few weeks determining the significance of these gains, comparing them to previous gains.  But these scores do send a message to all willing to listen.  Improvement is possible, but it requires significantly more work, attention, and resources.  And that’s a far harder lesson to learn.             

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