Report Takes Second Look at Stalled NAEP Scores

By Debra Viadero — March 17, 2010 1 min read
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When 4th grade mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress seemed to stall last year after years of climbing upward, some experts pronounced the results to be a disappointment.

But a report released today suggests that the lack of continued progress may have been a necessary correction after a long, and possibly unrealistic, trajectory of success rather than a cause for despair.

“The main NAEP has always been an outlier in terms of how much progress it’s measuring,” said author Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. “So, in a sense, it’s coming back to earth now.”
The review of NAEP trends is among several analyses comes in the latest annual report on American education produced by Brookings’ Brown Center on Education.

Another study in the same volume, drawing on 20 years of state testing data for California, finds that very few schools ever “turn around"—or drop dramatically—when it comes to students’ academic performance.

And, in a third section of the report, another study based on California data suggests that, compared with charter schools started from scratch, regular public schools that convert to charter status tend to look more like traditional schools, in terms of their demographics and the credentials of their teaching staffs.

To put the NAEP results from last year in context, Mr. Loveless compared 4th graders’ academic growth since 1990, to the long-runnIng trend lines for 4th graders on two other tests: the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Long-Term Trend NAEP. The latter is a separate test given to the same age group of students every few years.

Of the three tests, Mr. Loveless writes, the main NAEP test has consistently registered the biggest gains from one testing year to the next. If the trend were to continue at the same pace, instead of stalling, he reasons, by the year 2053 4th graders will know about the same amount of math as high school seniors did in 1990.

“Perhaps the skyrocketing gains had to stall on this particular test, and elementary teachers did not become horrible math instructors in 2007,” the report says. “If you go by the main NAEP, don’t forget, they had been miracle workers the previous 17 years.”

Look for the full story on this report later today on

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.