The Nation’s Cudgel….

As a classroom teacher, I often struggle to keep my spirits high under the constant barrage of criticism leveled at the work done by public school teachers. Typically, glaring headlines like "American Students Don’t Make the Grade," and "Stupid in America" trumpet what polemics believe to be the complete failure of our system to educate children. 

A popular cudgel in recent years have been results from NAEP—The National Assessment of Educational Progress—testing. In a typical year, the majority of US 8th graders perform at what are determined to be "basic" levels of proficiency (as opposed to proficient or advanced), causing laments to rain down from every corner of the edu-sphere. Often, comparisons are made to other countries where students and educational systems are lauded as successes that we could replicate "if only teachers were better prepared."

That’s why a recent article in Ed Week titled Most Nations Fall Short of NAEP Proficiency caught my eye today. Turns out that our "Nation’s Report Card" is a test with standards that students in all but a handful of Asian nations would struggle to measure up against. 

Based on a study conducted by Gary Phillips of the American Institute of Research, out of the 46 nations who have data for comparison, "only students from Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, would reach the proficient level, on average, if they were to take the 8th grade NAEP test in [mathematics]. On the NAEP science tests, the analysis shows, only two of the TIMSS countries—Singapore and Taiwan—would have students who score, on average, at that level."

Don’t get me wrong…having high standards for our students is essential if we are intent on maintaining our competitive edge in the world’s flattening economy. But using a measure that has unreasonably high standards prevents open conversation about where our schools are succeeding and where they continue to struggle—and unfairly damages the credibility of a system that is serving millions of students well.

One thought on “The Nation’s Cudgel….

  1. Nancy Flanagan

    Remember also the widespread misperception that all American students take the NAEP. Not true. NAEP samples learning in carefully selected, divergent student populations. Their sampling techniques are undoubtedly first rate, psychometrically, but they are samples nonetheless. Widespread data sets tell us about trends, they don’t identify bold successes in individual schools or districts or tell us how those were achieved. Given the careful, representative sampling, it’s no surprise that NAEP data doesn’t change much from year to year. Schools change, kids change, instruction changes, but the great grey mass of data, designed to remove outliers on both ends, remains fairly static.

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