School Choice & Charters Opinion

12th Grade NAEP Scores Are Meaningless

By Diane Ravitch — November 23, 2010 1 min read
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Dear Deborah,

The reading and math scores for 12th grade students on the National Assessment of Education (NAEP) were just released, and they are unimpressive. Scores are no better than they were in the early 1990s. The achievement gap is unchanged.

I can hear the gnashing of teeth, the cries for more accountability, more charters, more this or more that. But not to worry. In fact, the 12th grade scores don’t mean much. They probably mean nothing at all.

The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, has known for years that 12th graders don’t try to do well on the tests. The students know that the tests don’t count, that there are no individual scores, that no one will ever know if they did well or poorly, and they are not motivated to do their best.

The public does not realize that NAEP is a sampling test, and it is not given to every student. They also don’t realize that no student takes the entire test, only a portion of it. The seniors may not know that they are part of a national sample, but they know that this test will not affect their grades, their likelihood of graduating, or their plans after high school.

Unlike students in grades 4 and 8, students in grade 12 understand that their scores don’t matter to their lives.

NAGB has done studies and convened a commission to study the problem of 12th grade student motivation, but has not devised an answer. (To learn more, Google “National Assessment Governing Board twelfth grade motivation NAEP”.)

And that’s why we should ignore the 12th grade NAEP scores. Unlike the SAT, the ACT, the end-of-course exams, the AP exams, and graduation exams, the NAEP tests don’t matter. And seniors know it. They doodle on their test papers, or they select answers with a pattern, like all B, or all C, or ABCD/ABCD. Or they leave questions blank, without even bothering to make a guess.

The government should stop wasting money on this test in this grade, and the usual critics should turn their fire elsewhere.


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