Ravitch does it again: In one policy area after another, our public discourse turns on two kinds of facts—bogus and withheld.
Inaccurate facts are widely asserted. Accurate facts get withheld.
When it comes to the public schools, very few people have ever heard about the very large score gains in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of educational testing.
Recently, new data from the 2012 NAEP showed a continuing rise in test scores. We thought you might want to see what some liberals heard about those new NAEP scores from Diane Ravitch.
Ravitch is a genuine piece of work. For years, she overstated the facts on behalf of No Child Left Behind. Then one day, she flipped on the program—and her stated reason makes no earthly sense.
Now, she tends to overstate the case against testing, accountability and standards. But because she has denounced George Bush, we liberals have adopted Ravitch as one of our tribal leaders.
The new NAEP data were released on June 27. That day, Ravitch authored this post, offering a peculiar take on claims of test score gains.
Much of her post was highly misleading or wrong. For starters, she pulled a trick she often pulls—she talked about reading scores only, thereby ignoring the larger gains which have been recorded in math.
In this, the start of her post, she makes some claims which are flatly wrong. But note the way she eliminates the consideration of math without quite saying she’s done so:
RAVITCH (6/27/13): Today the federal government released the NAEP 2012 “Trends in Academic Progress.” This is known as the Long-Term Trend report. These tests seldom change in content. They are given every four years to national–not state–samples of students at ages 9-13-17.Did you see the way she dropped the consideration of math? Go back and reread with great care!
The reports say that achievement is stagnant, but it is not true. What is truly stagnant are the scores for the past four years.
There were big achievement gains from 1971-2008 for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, and big achievement gains for students at every age level tested–ages 9, 13, and 17.
From 1971-2008, in reading, black students at age 9 gained 34 points; at age 13, 25 points; at 17, 28 points.
From 1971-2008, white students at age 9 made gains of 14 points; at 13 points [sic], 7 points; at 17, 4 points.
From 1971-2008, Hispanic students at age 9 gained 25 points; at 13, 10 points; at 17, 17 points.
However, for the past four years, from 2008-2012, the scores have been stagnant for every racial and ethnic group and for every age group with the singular exception of Hispanic 13-year-olds and female 13-year-olds.
From 2008-2012, the acme of the high-stakes testing era, there were no gains for black students at ages 9 or 13 or 17.
From 2008-2012, there were no gains for white students at ages 9 or 13 or 17.
From this point on, Ravitch is talking about reading scores only. Math scores have been discarded.
Having noted that sleight of hand, let’s focus on Ravitch’s misstatements:
“The [NAEP] reports say that achievement is stagnant?” We’re not sure what Ravitch means by that statement, but on its face, that claim isn’t accurate. To read the NAEP report, click here. The first sub-headline you see will say this:
“Nine- and 13-year-olds make gains.”
We don’t know what Ravitch means by the statement we’ve quoted, nor does she really try to explain. But as a general matter, the new NAEP report doesn’t “say that achievement is stagnant.”
Other inaccurate claims will follow. Let’s start here:
“There were big achievement gains from 1971-2008 for whites, blacks, and Hispanics,” Ravitch writes. That statement is accurate! And that’s a big part of the very important story the public has never been told.
There were “big achievement gains” in the first 37 years of the NAEP, Ravitch correctly says. By way of contrast, she gloomily says the scores were “stagnant” from 2008 to 2012, except in the case of Hispanic 13-year-olds.
She goes on to say “there were no gains” for black and white students during that period. We’re sorry, but that isn’t true.
Example: Below, you see the score gains displayed by the three major groups of 13-year-old students during that four-year period:
NAEP score gains, 2008-2012, 13-year-old students:In reading, 13-year-old black students showed no gain from 2008 to 2012. But black students showed gains everywhere else, in every age group, in both reading and math. And here’s a warning about that flat reading score at age 13:
Score gains in reading:
White students: 2 points
Black students: 0 points
Hispanic students: 7 points
Score gains in math:
White students: 3 points
Black students: 2 points
Hispanic students: 3 points
13-year-old black students had gained a very large 7 points during the previous four-year period, from 2004 to 2008. That large gain may have been a statistical anomaly that got “sanded down” in the next four years.
Warning! Due to the statistical bumps and grinds involved in sampling, it’s dangerous to examine short time spans too closely. These are the scores gains recorded by 13-year-olds over the past eight years:
NAEP score gains, 2004-2012, 13-year-old students:Bigger score gains would be better. But those are good gain rates over that eight-year period. It’s silly and dumb to torture oneself over the smallest time span available. And even when Ravitch restricts herself to the last four years, she makes flagrant misstatements:
Score gains in reading:
White students: 5 points
Black students: 8 points
Hispanic students: 8 points
Score gains in math:
White students: 6 points
Black students: 7 points
Hispanic students: 7 points
Black students did record score gains in most areas from 2008-2012. So did white students. When she says these scores were “stagnant,” she seems to mean that the gains were not recorded as “statistically significant.” If you understand how such matters work—there is no sign that Ravitch does—it just isn’t very smart to describe those score gains that way.
Ravitch wants you to think that gains would be larger if not for No Child Left Behind—if not for the rise in testing, accountability and standards. It’s possible that that is true, but it’s hard to demonstrate.
But in that post, Ravitch did what she typically does—she made misstatements in support of her preferred story line. Ravitch used to play these games on behalf of NCLB. Now she plays the same silly games on the “liberal” side.
For this reason, many of us gullible liberals have accepted Ravitch as a prophet. This proves a very basic point—we can be foolish too!
Will the culture of accountability and standards slow the rate of score gains? It’s possible. But Ravitch constantly misstate facts in support of the outcome she wants.
Meanwhile, why is no one telling the public the larger story she includes in that post? Why is no one telling the public about the “big achievement gains for whites, blacks, and Hispanics from 1971” right up to the present day?
Very few people have ever heard that. When will we liberals get off our keisters? When will the public be told?