Trouble at the Top: Long Term Trend federal testing shows high schools not making progress in education
New results are out from a long term trend tracking version of the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP LTT), and the results are puzzling, at best.
Unlike the “Main NAEP,” which provides state level results, the NAEP LTT only provides an overall, nationwide look at education. However, unlike the Main NAEP, the LTT version of the test has remained fairly stable since the early 1970’s permitting an extended view of educational trends in reading and mathematics in the United States.
It should be noted that a NAEP LTT change in 2004 to allow use of testing accommodations to improve participation of students with learning disabilities did cause some small score shifts downward. However, the drops are considered small enough that comparison to earlier years is still considered acceptable.
This first graph summarizes the trends in NAEP LTT reading scores over time.
Note on this graph and the one for math that follows that the appearance of an asterisk next to a score means that score is considered to be statistically significantly different from the score in 2012. For example, the Age 9 score (nominally 4th graders) of 208 in 1971 is statistically significantly lower than the 221 score for 2012.
You can also see the Age 13 score (nominally 8th graders) of 255 in 1971 is also statistically significantly lower than the 263 score this age group achieved in 2012. However, the 2012 score for Age 13 students is not notably different from the score in 1992.
But, now examine what happened to the Age 17 students (nominally in the 12th grade). The score in 2012 is not statistically different from the score in either 1971 or most of the following test years, either. Worse, 12th grade reading scores were actually a little higher in the period from 1988 to 1992 for these high school age students.
Why was the performance increase seen at the lower grades not maintained at the graduation end of the school cycle?
You might think that increasing high school graduation rates could explain the flat scores. You’d probably be wrong.
This graph shows Average Freshman Graduation Rates (AFGR) for the United States reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The graph shows the early 1970’s experienced some of the best high school graduation rates of any time during this entire period. Furthermore, the AFGR rates around 1975 were essentially identical to those in 1984 through 1988, 1992, 2004 and 2008 (the 2012 rate has not yet been reported by NCES, unfortunately). So, for the most part, much of the flatness in scores is matched by relatively constant graduation rates for these years.
In fact, a reverse effect seems apparent between 1992 and 1999. Graduation rates fell notably in this period while the NAEP LTT reading scores essentially stayed stable. One might expect the scores to rise under these conditions, not fall.
So, the generally flat NAEP LTT reading scores for Age 17 students are puzzling, and problematic. Why are we consistently losing gains supposedly being made in the lower grades in our public schools?
The reading situation is repeated for math.
The Age 17 scores in 2012 are not notably different from scores in 1973 or any year from 1990 on.
Now, how’s that again about all the education progress in this country? If it doesn’t “stick” to graduation, maybe it really isn’t there at all.