July 26, 2018
The educational assessment used in this country to be able to compare states to each other is called the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – commonly referred to as the nation’s report card. It covers reading and math for eighth-grade and fourth-grade students across the nation. The test is widely regarded as a credible gauge of student performance in specific grades. The latest available data comes from the 2017 version of NAEP.
Changes from last test: North Carolina’s results show very little, if any progress, from the last test. Eighth-grade reading and math scores were up 1 and 2 points respectively – essentially no change from the 2015 scores. More concerning were fourth-grade test results, which declined by 2 points in reading and 3 points in math.
NC Scores vs. National Scores: The fourth-grade reading scores, while down year over year, remained three points higher than the national average (221) while 16 states had better fourth-grade reading scores than North Carolina. Regarding fourth-grade math, North Carolina students scored 241, down three points from the previous year, but not statistically different from the national average score of 239. Again, 15 states had higher fourth-grade math scores than North Carolina.
Results: The decline in fourth-grade reading scores is alarming. Only 39 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders were rated “proficient” on NAEP reading exams. Students performing at or above the “proficient” level on NAEP assessments demonstrate solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter. It should be noted that the NAEP “proficient” achievement level does not represent grade level proficiency as determined by other assessment standards such as state or district assessments. North Carolina’s latest scores are slightly above the national average. Unfortunately, because scores are directly comparable within a state year-by-year, North Carolina’s lower scores since the 2015 NAEP exam, demonstrate our actual progress level to be down.
For the past 15 years, trend lines for math and reading scores have seen no significant improvements at the state or federal level. They have been essentially flat. Over the past 15 years North Carolina state government has provided the public schools more than $108 billion in funding and included a raft of initiatives to boost student achievement and help those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite the influx of dollars, there has been very little variation in NAEP scores. Moreover, achievement gaps remain as intractable as ever.
Let’s move past the simplistic argument about how much money we spend on education – because it’s more complicated than that – and get to the real issue: Are our students performing at higher levels of achievement or not?