2017 NAEP Scores Are a Call for Action

On April 10, 2018 Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, published the following memo on the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress results. 

Results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) underscore the important work that still needs to be done to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for success in college or a career. While scores on NAEP largely held steady and achievement gaps between white students and students of color did not widen, the underlying data show us that traditionally high-performing students performed better while traditionally low-performing students performed worse. That result serves as a reminder for state policymakers, education officials, community advocates—everyone in the education community—that we must focus more than ever on how to work together to better serve all students and ensure that schools and educators are receiving the supports needed to make necessary improvements.

Redouble our commitment to replicate what works and fix what needs updating. We must encourage states to implement strong systems of accountability, while also identifying the schools and districts showing progress in serving traditionally disadvantaged populations. Similarly, teachers will benefit from support in helping students master the skills and knowledge included in higher standards. And, NAEP needs to accurately reflect what students are learning today so that it provides useful information to states about student progress.

The places that are serving all students well provide an important roadmap. It’s encouraging to see that student achievement in 8th grade reading has increased nationally. Further, as we work to ensure that we are increasing student achievement for all students, it is promising to see that the upward trend of 8th grade reading also includes improved performance for English Language Learners.

Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of students reaching at least the Basic level of achievement in 4th grade. In 2017, 80 percent of 4th graders were at Basic or higher in mathematics, up from 50 percent in 1990.

Increased performance can be seen in a diverse group of states across the country. We must look to examples from Florida, New Jersey, Indiana, and Washington, as well as the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), to learn from their success and best practices.

Many states have a great start. For the last several years, states have been working to implement higher standards, more rigorous assessments, and have most recently submitted their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans to the federal government which detail how they will support all students and improve consistently low-performing schools. The independent peer review process that we facilitated with Bellwether Education Partners found that many states presented innovative and detailed ways in which they will improve student outcomes. Conversely, many states lacked detail in their plans and it was unclear how they would address low performing schools, or support ELLs or students with disabilities.

As a nation we cannot lose the resolve to do better for our students – states must maintain the higher standards and assessments that they put in place and they must implement strong ESSA plans that serve all students. Lowering the bar isn’t an option.