November 5, 2022

Jay Wamsted: I’m a Teacher. Here’s Why I Don’t Care About the NAEP Scores

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Jay Wamsted is a career educator who explains in Education Week why he just can’t get excited about the state of NAEP scores.

For one thing, these scores did not exactly come out of a normal situation.

During the past two and half years, COVID-19 has infected close to 100 million people in the United States alone. Over 1 million of those cases resulted in death. Millions were seriously ill and recovered; many were hospitalized. All of this disruption came at great expense to the routines and home lives of children who were forced to live with the effects of pandemic in their households, including the death of close family members. Are we to be surprised that students whose families were struggling with serious health issues and even loss of life had a difficult time taking an optional test tacked on to the end of the second year of disruption? I think not.

In 2020, the United States average household income decreased by roughly 3 percent since the previous year, when adjusted by inflation, with lowest-income households hit even harder. Is it unreasonable to think that millions of families undergoing economic hardship in the face of the pandemic were going to experience a shock to their children’s test scores as well?

Critics of the SAT college-entrance exam have long noted that its most predictive power is one of showing that high-income families do well on tests. Couldn’t we expect that an entire nation in economic turmoil would have a dip in NAEP scores?

It is worth pointing out that to varying degrees, depending on district-level decisions, every child in America missed some amount of school. Why shouldn’t we expect to have some dip in the amount of material we learned? I went home in March 2020 and limped virtually through the remainder of the school year. I taught 100 percent virtual in the fall of that year for nine weeks, then did a hybrid for the rest of the school year—half in the room and half on Zoom.

Then for the 2021-22 school year, we were all in the class—in theory. In fact, children were out constantly all year due to illness. None of these plans worked perfectly, and they were all tremendously disruptive. A dip in test scores—noted across the board in all manner of states—was likely inevitable.

Of course, the usual NAEP panic has already begun to subside–people made their usual points, advocated for their usual solutions, and now it’s time to move on. But Wamsted’s piece is still a reminder of why not everyone is going to be panicked by those results. Read the full piece here. 

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