Yes, it is that time of year again. This morning, EdSec Arne Duncan officially released the reading and math scores for “The Nation’s Report Card.” The results? Recent trends continue. Overall scores continue to tick up. Reading scores for fourth graders continue to frustrate.
The good folks over at Education Writers Association are aggregating coverage on NAEP over at Ed Media Commons. Check out EWA’s initial analysis, along with its roundup of coverage here.
What does it all mean? The highlights and analysis and opining will continue to pour in during the coming days. But a few immediate points come to mind:
* The overall rise in student performance over the past 20 years signals that efforts to focus on accountability, student achievement, and teacher quality are having real, positive impact. Sure, we aren’t seeing huge jumps in scores, but the trends are clear. We are improving.
* We are largely seeing improvement across the board. Unfortunately, that means we aren’t getting closer to closing the achievement gaps. While African-American and Hispanic/Latino scores are getting better, so are the scores of white students. On the whole, it is terrific to see all students learn and improve. But we still have to figure out how we address the shortcomings historically disadvantaged students have faced in the classroom.
* Fourth grade reading scores continue to trouble. These scores were flat. We are now six or so years from when we pulled the plug on Reading First. Like it or not, our investment in scientifically based reading instruction had impact. We saw it in previous fourth grade scores, and we are seeing it in older kids who benefitted from the emphasis on SBRR. Now we are fourth graders who aren’t benefitting from what is proven effective, and it can be seen.
* We need to spend more time and effort focusing on proficiency, and not just the gains themselves (yes, ironic based on the first three bullets here). True, it is great seeing the steady rise in overall scores. But we spent far too little time focusing on the reality that only 42 percent of our fourth graders are proficient in math, and an even lower 35 percent are proficient in reading. And despite what some want to believe, we don’t make it up in the later grades. Only 36 percent of eighth graders are proficient in both core subjects.
In a nation that has set a collective goal to have every child college and career ready by 2020, nearly two thirds of our eighth graders aren’t yet doing eighth-grade level reading and math. That is a reality that affects everyone, regardless of race, family income, or zip code. And it is a reality that demands far more attention than it receives.