Gains for Special Education Students on NAEP Mathematics

By Margaret Ruthenberg — May 12, 2010 2 min read

Due to increased focus on testing and accountability, the U.S. education system and the general public have recently given greater attention to the academic performance of students with disabilities. School communities and advocates for disabled students have focused efforts on raising expectations and achievement for this group of young people. This Stat of the Week explores the 8th grade math scores of students with disabilities on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.” These scores reflect student knowledge in five areas of mathematics: number properties and operations, measurement, geometry, data analysis and probability, and algebra.

The NAEP program includes students with disabilities in its assessments, allowing them specific testing accommodations as necessary. Accommodations may include receiving assistance interpreting directions, using a computer or typewriter to respond, taking the test in small group or one-on-one settings, and having extended time and breaks during the test.

Nationally, between 2000 and 2005, the average score of students with disabilities on the grade 8 NAEP mathematics test increased 15 points on a 500-point scale, climbing from 229 to 244—a statistically significant increase. However, there was considerable variation in performance between states. Of the 32 states (and the District of Columbia) with scale score increases, only 17 made statistically significant gains. Eighth-graders with disabilities in South Carolina made the largest strides, gaining 24 points between 2000 and 2005. Five other states, Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Tennessee, experienced score increases of 20 points or more. The largest decline occurred in Alabama, where the average score fell eight points from 229 to 221. Among the five declines that occurred in various states, none were statistically significant.

Scores for 13 states are not available for the 2000 assessment. Of those, 11 states did not participate in the exam, which was not mandatory until 2003, and scores for two states did not meet NAEP’s reporting standards. The results for students with disabilities are based on those students who were tested and cannot be generalized to the overall population for this group.

The rise in the national average of NAEP mathematics scores for students with disabilities suggests that advocates’ call for increased attention to this population may be paying off. However, despite recent improvements, scores for students with disabilities still lag far behind those of their peers, with a gap of 37 points between the 8th grade NAEP mathematics scores of disabled and non-disabled students, nationally, in 2005.

More information on students with disabilities is available in EPE’s Education Counts database. In addition, Education Week’s Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards focused on issues in special education.

Changes in NAEP 8th Grade Mathematics Scores for Students with Disabilities from 2000 to 2005