September 4, 2022

John Warner: Unravelling the NAEP Freakout

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It’s that special time of year when the National Assessment of Education Progress releases some scores and everyone then freaks out over the results and starts looking for messages in the data. This year, the NAEP yielded a set of post-pandemic scores that were exactly what everyone had predicted–lower than previous scores. 

Some media outlets moved straight to full panic mode, notably the New York Times, which declared two decades of gropwth “erased,” as if student learning and teacher skills had simply disappeared into the ether, never to return.  John Warner, in his substack Educational Endeavors, took a look at the big freakout.

This framing of the lower scores as a “loss of two-decades of growth” is predicated on the fact that NAEP scores have been gradually rising over the last twenty years, so this year’s scores are roughly equivalent to those of students who took the exam in 2002.

If there is a more alarmist way to report these scores, I can’t think of it, but needless to say that the nation’s 9-year-olds have not regressed to a minus-11-year-old level of proficiency on reading and math.

Lots of public people have seized on these results to advance their favored educational beliefs, that schools should never have closed, that remote learning is a disaster, that teachers unions are a scourge, that standardized tests are meaningless, etc…

Warner wisely avoids wading into the usual debates about NAEP scores (which look exactly like the usual policy debates). Instead, he lists five things he feels are certain about the scores.

  1. School was definitely disrupted

Worth noting if for no reason other than some folks want to present the idea as if it’s a shocking revelation.

And we’ll skip to #3, which is a point that is being overlooked.

  1. Factors other than what students may or may not have “learned” contributed to lower scores.

It’s entirely possible that there was a lack of explicit test preparation, which left students unfamiliar with the specifics of how to do well on the exam.

Some students were experiencing the grief of having lost a caregiver to the pandemic.

More students than usual may have disengaged entirely from schooling, and not mustered even a token effort at performing well.

The full list is worth your while. Read the full post here. 


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