Several days ago I published comments on the fourth grade results by year on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math tests.
That included graphs for whites, blacks, and the overall student average scores for Kentucky versus the national averages for those same student groups. Now, I now present graphs that show how our eighth graders did.
As the chair of the Kentucky board of education recently put it, “Lets…face the brutal truth.”
As I did with the fourth grade student results, let’s start with some “right stuff.” You cannot get a good idea about what is happening in education in Kentucky if you only look at the overall NAEP scores for all students. So, this first graph shows how our white kids compared to the rest of the nation since NAEP began eighth grade math testing for states back in 1990.
While our white kids made some progress, so have their peers in the rest of the nation. As a result, the Kentucky to national white score gap on the eighth grade NAEP was 10 points both in 1990 and in 2009. In fact, between 2007 and 2009 the gap grew by two points.
What really puts this in focus is a consideration of the very low proficiency rates associated with these scores. NAEP reported in 2009 that only 29 percent of Kentucky’s eighth grade students were proficient or more on math.
And, whites across the nation aren’t presenting much of a target for us to shoot at, either. The national NAEP eighth grade proficiency rate for whites in 2009 was only 43 percent – less than one out of two.
So, as I said in my discussion about the fourth grade results, you have to pardon me, but I don’t much feel like cheering. I think that Pollyanna attitude just feeds a Kentucky denial syndrome about education that many are just now starting to overcome.
Sadly, as was also true in the fourth grade, things look a lot worse when we consider our black eighth grade student’s performance relative to blacks around the nation.
That has changed. Our blacks lost their advantage and now score two points below the national black average. By the way, the NAEP math proficiency rate for our black eighth grade students in 2009 is truly depressing. The 2009 NAEP reports only eight percent – that’s right, just 8 percent – of our blacks had proficient or better performance. The national black performance was hardly much better at a miserable 12 percent.
I think we need to fully understand this. After 19 years of a reform that specifically promised to improve performance for our most challenged students, only eight percent of our black eighth grade kids are proficient today in math — that’s all.
Finally, here is the graph for the results for all students.
The contrast in performance on NAEP math when we break the data down by race, especially for our black students, provides more examples of why I find simplistic comparisons of only the overall student scores to be highly misleading. Just as we learned from our now discarded CATS assessments, using overall NAEP numbers by themselves can hide some really serious performance problems in Kentucky. People who continue to do those sorts of simplistic analyses do us all, and especially our students, a disservice.
Let me add a few comments about the student demographics in the 2009 NAEP eighth grade samples. In 1990, Kentucky’s NAEP sample was 90 percent white, while the national percentage was only 73 percent. By 2009, the national eighth grade white proportion had dropped to 56 percent, while Kentucky’s stayed very high at 85 percent (Table A-17 in the 2009 NAEP Report Card). What is really amazing is that the NAEP national sample in 1990 was only 7 percent Hispanic, and that has ballooned THREE TIMES to 21 percent in 2009. Many of those Hispanics are still learning English as a second language, which makes their educational challenges in the United States much more problematic. In Kentucky, our Hispanic population is almost negligible in 2009 at only two percent.
Given those dramatic differences, anyone who would blindly compare overall NAEP scores for all students is giving Kentucky a huge and misleading advantage in their comparison.
By the way, back in 1992 the NAEP didn’t allow students with learning disabilities to get any testing accommodations (which will raise their scores). If they took the test, they took it “cold,” just like all the other students. That changed in 2009 when NAEP did allow learning disabled students to take the NAEP with accommodations.
So, you might think that when accommodations were not allowed back in 1992 that a lot of our learning disabled kids got excluded from the NAEP.
Kentucky’s eighth grade exclusion rate for learning disabled students in 1992 totalled just five percent of the raw sample the NAEP wanted to test, equaling the national exclusion rate. In 2009, Kentucky’s exclusion rate dropped to four percent, but the national exclusion rate for learning disabled students dropped more, down to only three percent.
However, in 2009 another 6 percent of the entire raw sample in Kentucky got testing accommodations that were not allowed at all back in 1992.
(Source: Tables A-4 and A-5 in the 2009 NAEP Report Card)
So, some of our grade eight math score increase in 2009 is just due to kids getting score-inflating assistance that a notable portion of our kids didn’t get back in 1992.
Anyway, there is plenty of evidence in the new NAEP math report that raises concerns in Kentucky about math – such as those I heard several days ago at the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee. I think when people carefully consider the new NAEP results, they aren’t going to do much cheering.