Educator and blogger Peter Greene offers his insight on what we can (and can’t) learn from NAEP in Forbes:
That’s the one actual lesson of NAEP; the dream of data-informed, data-driven decision making as a cure for everything that ails us is just a dream. Data can be useful for those who want to actually look at it. But data is not magical, and in education, it’s fruitless to imagine that data will settle our issues.
This is akin to the saying: “You don’t make a pig fatter by weighing it more often.”
What about those big gains in Mississippi? Greene notes:
Mississippi in 2015 joined the states that held back students who could not pass a third grade reading test, meaning those low-scoring students would not be in fourth grade to take NAEP test. It would be like holding back all the shorter third graders and then announcing that the average height of fourth graders has increased.
And, he also points out that Betsy DeVos took a shot at the very reforms she advocated:
DeVos singled out Detroit as an example of failed policies, yet the policies that have failed in Detroit are largely those reform policies that she herself pushed when she was an education reform activist in Michigan.
Is “reform” working? Do we need more “disruption” as Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee suggests?
In all discussions, it’s useful to remember that the increases or decreases being discussed are small– a difference of just a few points up or down. NAEP scores have shown neither a dramatic increase or decrease, but a sort of dramatic stagnation. That is arguably worse news for education reformers, who have been promising dramatic improvements in student achievement since No Child Left Behind became the law almost twenty years ago.
The short answer: No. The new tests (TNReady), the charters, the vouchers… none of it is making a dent in the underlying issues driving the stagnation Greene notes. Yes, there is useful information to be gleaned from the data, but it’s probably time to calm down and focus on what matters: making life (and school) better for kids.
The thing is: We know what to do, we just don’t seem to want to do it. Instead, we can talk about NAEP and gains and the need to improve and the difference between NAEP scores and state test scores and then feel like we’ve done something.
Still, too many kids show up to school hungry. Too many families don’t have access to adequate healthcare. Tennessee’s current Commissioner of Education notes:
“If we’re looking at proficiency by student group over time, the large increase in 2013 was largely from our white and non-low income students,” she said, calling for more support for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
The question, then, is what will Governor Bill Lee and the General Assembly do with this data? Continue to ignore it as past Governors and legislators have? Ask for more data? Add more tests? Contract with a testing company that promises results that justify the reforms Lee likes? Enact vouchers in spite of mountains of evidence against the efficacy of such programs?
I predict there will be a demand for more weighing of the pig.
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