Why NAEP Scores Can’t Be Tied to Common Core Yet

In a letter to the Naples Daily News, Florida resident Melanie Doyle argues that declines in student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are evidence Common Core State Standards are having a negative impact: “These results are especially significant because, unlike students who took the NAEP tests two years earlier, the 2015 test-takers had the benefit of full Common Core implementation. Or maybe ‘benefit’ is the wrong word.”

Contrary to Doyle’s claim, states have varied widely in when they started implementing and fully teaching to the new, more rigorous learning goals. Even if students have had two years’ worth of full implementation, that accounts for only about 20 percent of the K-12 academic career.

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.

“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.”

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.

At the same time, early indicators suggest Common Core State Standards are raising classroom expectations. A Harvard University study recently 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.”