During Monday’s Kentucky Board of Education meeting about charter schools, one presenter again pushed the idea that Kentucky has made great progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since KERA began in 1990. But, the picture that got painted, which only referenced overall average NAEP scores, was incomplete and misleading.
When you only compare overall student NAEP scores for Kentucky to the “all student” scores in other states, it looks like we have made progress. But, the overall numbers do not provide a fair comparison.
As Figure 1, which specifically examines data from the 2015 NAEP Grade 8 Math Assessment, shows, Kentucky’s school enrollment was about 80 percent white while across the nation only about half the students were whites. In some places like California, white students were a notable minority part of the public school enrollment.
So, only looking at overall average scores from NAEP just matches a lot of white student scores in Kentucky against a lot of minority scores found in other states. Thanks to the very large achievement gaps in this country, that doesn’t provide a realistic comparison.
For example, comparing Kentucky’s overall average scores against California’s results means that 82 percent minus 25 percent, or 57 percent of all Kentucky’s students who are whites are being matched to students of other races in California. Many of those California students will be lower-scoring Hispanics and an appreciable proportion of those California Hispanics will be English language learners, as well.
If we compare Kentucky to the nationwide public school results, we are still matching a group amounting to 31 percent of all Kentucky’s students who are whites to students of other races in other parts of the country. That won’t provide an accurate picture of our state’s true performance.
When we do break the 2015 NAEP Grade 8 Math results out by race, Figure 2 shows Kentucky’s performance for its dominant racial group does not look very good.
Our white students scored almost at the very bottom on this national assessment.
So, if you want to fairly compare education performance across the states, you have to break the data out by student subgroups. You are just fooling people, otherwise.