NAEP Scores vs Common Core: What You Need to Know

Elementary classroomCritics have argued that decreases in student performance on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are evidence that the Common Core State Standards are having a negative impact. Unfortunately, these assertions are inaccurate – here’s why:

For now it’s too soon to link 2015 NAEP scores to higher state standards.

Most states are teaching to new, more rigorous learning goals, and experts roundly agree that NAEP scores can’t be linked to higher state standards.

“It’s unfair to say the Common Core had anything to do with these scores going down,” Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution said last fall of the drop in overall NAEP scores. “If [the scores] went up, it would be unfair to say it had anything to do with them going up. You just can’t tell from the NAEP data.”

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, points out that “While NAEP helps highlight national trends, we still need statewide annual assessments to capture student and school progress year-by-year… these assessments are better indicators of student success and learning because they must be aligned to college- and career-ready standards, and measure student skills using a variety of methods.”

State implementation of higher standards varied widely.

States have varied widely in when they started implementing and fully teaching to the new, more rigorous learning goals. This means that states that adopted the Common Core in 2010 may not have started to fully implement the standards until 2013, and may have just started to see results that are affected by the shift to higher standards.

As with most education policies, it will take time—probably years—for these changes to take root and begin to improve student outcomes. Moreover, as many experts acknowledge, a one-time decline on NAEP should not be construed as a trend.

The strength of the Common Core is that the standards build strong foundations of fundamental skills beginning at early grades. Therefore, as more students in early grades begin to learn through the standards, achievement will gradually increase. But those gains will take time to be fully realized.

State assessment scores are on the rise.

Early indicators suggest Common Core State Standards are raising classroom expectations. A Harvard University study declared: “In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

At the same time, states now use high-quality student assessments aligned to their new statewide learning goals. High-quality tests are designed to measure students according to state guidelines. Statewide tests are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student development and to provide support when and where students need it. The data these tests provide help inform instruction and allow educators to tailor their teaching to build on what’s working and address classroom needs.

This year, most states administered assessments aligned to their higher standards for the second year in a row. A majority made improvements in student proficiency in math and reading, and some of the biggest gains were made by third graders, who have spent most or all of their educational careers learning to higher standards.

Early indicators suggest higher, more comparable standards are raising classroom expectations. A study by Achieve this year found more than half of states significantly closed their “honesty gaps,” providing parents and teachers with more accurate information about student readiness.

States have made a commitment to raising expectations in the classroom – and most are now beginning to see the rewards of those efforts.