Collaborative Director Jim Cowen – Statement on 2020 NAEP Results

On October 18, 2021, Collaborative for Student Success Director Jim Cowen released the following statement in response to the release of results from the 2020 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend (LTT) assessment.

Now is the time for systemic change in our schools so all of America’s students can be successful. The scores released from the 2020 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend (LTT) assessment are further evidence that we can’t just go back to business as usual in schools.  A slew of recent national and international tests demonstrate clearly that the time for half measures is over. We must use the opportunity afforded by $189 billion in federal recovery funds targeting education to make the changes all our students deserve.

One of the more troubling findings in the recent NAEP scores was the widening achievement levels among our lowest and highest performers, meaning the academic supports needed to assist our most struggling students may not be reaching them because scores among the lower-performing students have dropped further since 2012. There were other concerning findings, too, such as the decline in 13-year-olds who said they were taking algebra and the higher percentages of 9- and 13-year-olds who said they never or hardly ever read for fun.

While the NAEP scores reflect student performance just prior to the pandemic, results from state assessments conducted in spring 2021 show that student performance has been additionally hampered by pandemic learning conditions and stressors on students and families. Similarly, in 2019, before the pandemic, declines were reported in reading among fourth and eighth on the NAEP exam and scores had stagnated among America’s 15-year-olds on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) taken in 2018.

As historic amounts of federal relief funds flow into schools to aid recovery, we must ensure this money is used wisely and targeted to support our most vulnerable students. It’s only when we provide comprehensive, strong supports for all educators and students that we will see a shift in the trajectory.

Here are a few priorities for bringing about systemic change:

  • A new commitment to the use of data to help parents, educators and policymakers track student recovery and align resources to best address students’ academic needs. Simply giving tests is not enough, we must help educators, schools, and decision-makers at all levels act on the data.
  • Attention to the widespread adoption, training and use of high-quality instructional materials, to include those that use the science of reading to improve reading instruction. And we must specifically launch a greater focus on math achievement for all students of color and all students experiencing poverty, to include the delivery of algebra at the appropriate time and in a manner that gives those students the best opportunity of success.
  • Attending to the needs of our most vulnerable students in every decision we make affecting schools, including specific efforts to accelerate learning, as well as efforts to meet their social and emotional needs.

My organization will assist the push for systemic change in many ways, including a new effort to identify and validate promising practices that can be replicated around the country. The Collaborative is already working with the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University on such an effort, but more can and should be done to innovate, scale and replicate.