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How Race to Top States Fared on NAEP: The Hawaii Surprise

By Michele McNeil — November 02, 2011 2 min read

Even though it’s too early to start judging how well Race to the Top states are using their $4 billion in winnings to improve student achievement, it’s not too early to start looking at key indicators. And NAEP is one of them.

So just how did Race to the Top states fare on the 2011 NAEP versus non-winners?

There weren’t many bright spots in the NAEP results released Tuesday, as reading scores remained relatively flat and math scores inched up. But amid the bright spots were, indeed, some Race to the Top states.

Hawaii (yes, Hawaii!) and Maryland were the exceptions in reading. Students in both of those Race to the Top states (and only those states) scored higher in both 4th grade and 8th grade reading than in 2009. (Winner Massachusetts, and other non-winning states, scored higher in 4th grade only. Another winner, North Carolina, was among a few scoring higher in 8th grade.)

That’s pretty significant, especially for Hawaii, which hasn’t been a darling of the education reformers. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and crew even debated how to avoid giving the state a Race to the Top award. Lately, the state’s taken a beating over its teacher-evaluation system (or lack of one) with some critics saying Hawaii should have to give the money back. But, as Mike Petrilli at Flypaper noted, maybe there’s something to Hawaii winning after all.

In math, winners D.C., Rhode Island, and Hawaii (yes, Hawaii again!) made gains in both grades since 2009. Non-winner New Mexico was the only other state to post gains in both grades. Winner Georgia (and several other non-winning states) made gains in 4th grade only, and Ohio and a few others made gains in 8th grade.

Rhode Island’s jump in both grades is noteworthy because the state’s low math achievement in particular has bothered Education Commissioner Deb Gist, who set very high goals for that subject in general as part of the state’s Race to the Top application.

But even more spectacular is D.C.'s giant leaps in math. In four years, D.C.'s scores have jumped 12 points in eighth grade, and 8 points in fourth grade—making D.C. the biggest score mover on NAEP. (That’s a lot of points when scores in most states barely budge from year to year.)

What about the other Race to the Top states? Like most of the nation, their scores didn’t budge much. New York was the only Race to the Top state to see its scores go down in at least one area, in 4th grade math.

The Politics K-12 take: It’s way too early to use these results to judge the success of Race to the Top, or any winning state. But D.C.'s math achievement is clearly worth studying. And, Hawaii, for all sorts of reasons, is a state to watch as the Race to the Top program gets implemented.

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