NAEP Test Scores Are Out Today, Highlighting N.J.’s Achievement Gap

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The Nation’s Report Card from the National Center for Educational Statistics came out today for 4th and 8th grade math. Nationally there’s some good news: 8th graders performed better in 2009 than in 2007. On the other hand, there’s not any meaningful statistical change for 4th graders. The only states who can boast 4th grade gains are Colorado, District of Columbia (snaps to Michelle Rhee!) Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

How’d we do in New Jersey? Let’s look at the good news first.

  • In 2007, 40% of 8th graders scored proficient or above in math. In 2009, 44% scored proficient or above.

If we break it down ethnically, we see the achievement gap for 2009 scores:

  • 54% of White students scored proficient or above.
  • 17% of Black students scored proficient of above.
  • 22% of Hispanic students scored proficient or above.

NAEP uses eligibility for free or reduced lunch as a way to evaluate students’ economic backgrounds.

  • 20% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch scored proficient or above.
  • 53% of students not eligible for free or reduced lunch scored proficient or above.

Now let’s look at math scores for 4th graders in N.J.

  • In 2007 52% of 4th graders scored proficient or above in math. In 2009 49% scored proficient or above.

Broken down by ethnicity NAEP data shows that in 2009:

  • 63% of White 4th graders scored proficient or above.
  • 19% of Black 4th graders scored proficient or above.
  • 25% of Hispanic 4th graders scored proficient or above.

Using the rubric of eligibility for free or reduced lunch:

  • 22% of 4th graders eligible scored proficient or above.
  • 62% of 4th graders not eligible scored proficient or above.

How does one square this sobering data with the recent reports based on state tests that N.J. is narrowing the achievement gap for minority and low-income students? It all comes down to the test. According to a recent Star-Ledger column,

Some of New Jersey’s strongest gains were found in fourth-grade math tests, Jennings said. There, proficiency for African-American students grew from 39 percent to 68 percent between 2002 and 2008, according to the report. For Latino students, proficiency scores rose from 53 percent to 76 percent. Some 92 percent of white students scored proficient on the math test in 2008, an increase of 12 percentage points during that time

And indeed that’s true for our state assessments. Using the NJ ASK4 in math, 68% of our African-American 4th graders are proficient in math. But according to the national NAEP assessments, 19% of our African-American 4th graders are proficient in math. Now there’s an achievement gap, at least between designers of assessments.

It’s not simply a matter of whether our New Jersey assessments are too easy. (Obviously, they are, although the DOE is slowly raising the definition of proficiency. Until this year, a 4th grader was deemed proficient in math by answering 37% of questions correctly. Starting this year it’s about 50%). Our low-income and minority 4th graders are supposedly the beneficiaries of full-day preschools, supplementary programs, and all sorts of expensive bells and whistles intended to boost achievement. According to New Jersey state tests, it’s working. According to NAEP, it’s not working, at least in mathematics. Where do we go from here?

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