Part 4—From the land of the undiscussed: Later this month, if patterns hold, the new NAEP scores will be released.
Every two years, the federal government conducts tests in reading and math for students in Grades 4 and 8. This is part of the so-called "Main NAEP," one of the two major programs which comprise the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
(We aren't discussing the Long-Term Trend Assessment, the Main NAEP's companion program, in which 9- and 13-year-old students are tested. We are discussing the so-called Main NEAP, in which fourth- and eighth-graders get tested.)
The NAEP is widely described as "America's report card," the "gold standard" in domestic educational testing. It's the domestic testing program which hasn't been riddled by cheating scandals, though we'd like to see an assessment of at least one potential problem.
(The question we'd like to see examined: Are state superintendents able to skew the statewide samples of students who get tested?)
Two years ago, in late October, results were released for the 2015 NAEP. In the New York Times, Motoko Rich delivered some unwqelcome news:
RICH (10/28/15): For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by the Education Department on Wednesday.Based upon Rich's opening sentence, Times readers may have gotten the impression that math scores had previously dropped in 1990.
The decline appeared in both Grades 4 and 8 in an exam administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and sometimes called ''the nation's report card.''
Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools.
''It's obviously bad news,'' said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. ''We don't want to see scores going in this direction.''
''That doesn't mean we should completely freak out,'' he added. ''This could be a one-time variation, and maybe we'll see things come back next time. But if it were the beginning of a new trend, it would be quite disappointing and disturbing.''
In fact, 1990 was the year when the "Main NAEP" testing program began. Over the course of its twenty-five years, math scores had steadily risen on the federal testing program—until 2015, when relatively small drops in average scores were observed.
Confusion in Rich's education reporting was certainly nothing new. Later in this same report, she would make a puzzling claim, apparently based upon her failure to "disaggregate" the test scores—her failure to examine the scores for different demographic groups.
Ever since being assigned to the education beat, Rich—a Yale Phi Beta Kappa graduate—had bungled her education reporting in memorable ways. We'd say there's an obvious reason for this:
No one actually cares! Atop our journalistic elites, no one believes that school lives matter—except to the extent that reporting on public schools can be used to serve the interests of certain "reform"-minded corporations and certain billionaire elites.
No one thinks that school lives matter? All in all, we don't know how else to explain the state of the nation's education reporting over the past many years. Those NAEP scores from 2015 are a case in point:
By all accounts, those scores represent our most reliable measure of the academic skills of our public school students. And yet, almost two years later, you haven't heard the first freaking word about those disappointing scores!
You've never heard that scores declined in 2015. You've never heard that scores declined for the first time in the history of the Main NAEP program. You've never seen a single person try to explain why that may have happened.
You watch our liberal TV shows every night; you've never heard a single word concerning any such topic. Then too, you also haven't heard a peep about the stabbing death of Matthew McCree last week, or about the remarkable reporting in the New York Tines about conditions inside New York City schools.
You haven't heard a single word about any of this. Fairly obviously, that's because Rachel and Lawrence and Chris and Chris don't think that school lives matter.
Matthew McCree, age 15, didn't get killed the right way last week. Over Here in our failing tribe, we only discuss the killings of kids when they can be made to fit certain tribally pleasing patterns.
Beyond that, reading and math scores are tedious, eye-glazing, boring. Your favorite "corporate liberal" elites don't ask you to ponder such things.
Breaking! Your lizard brain is going to tell you that these unpleasant suggestions are false. In our view, we all need to learn how to get your lizards under control.
At any rate, you've never heard a single word about those 2015 NAEP scores. You're also unlikely to hear a single word when this year's scores get released.
That's because no one cares about any of this; within our journalistic and cultural elites, school lives don't actually matter. Judged on any rational basis, few things could be more clear.
Having said that, to what extent did NAEP scores decline in 2015? Why might this drop have occurred?
As she continued, Rich offered some thoughts about the latter question. She also seemed to make one of her trademark puzzling technical gaffes:
RICH (continuing directly): Education officials said that the first-time decline in math scores was unexpected, but that it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade's guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.Did the drop in math scores occur because of the switch to the Common Core? We have no idea. Everything is possible!
The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America's schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers.
About a quarter of public school students are Hispanic, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1990. As a group, the scores of Hispanic students trail those of white students; this year, for example, 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at a level deemed proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.
The proportion of African-American students in public schools has remained fairly stable, but an achievement gap with white students remains. On the fourth-grade reading tests this year, just 18 percent of black students were deemed proficient.
That said, Rich seemed to commit her latest puzzling technical bungle when she said the declining scores "could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America's schools." We say that because the average scores of all demographic groups dropped in 2015, not just those of black and Hispanic kids.
Consider Grade 8 math. By how much did average math scores drop in 2015, as compared to where they stood in 2013?
You see the basic data below. According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to correspond to one academic year:
Declines in average scores from 2013For all NAEP data, just click here. From there, you're on your own.
Grade 8 math, public schools, 2015 NAEP
All students: 2.34 points
Black students: 2.88 points
White students: 2.13 points
Hispanic students: 1.55 points
Asian-American students: 0.55 points
Those aren't gigantic drops, but they represent the first such declines in average scores in the Main NAEP's 25-year history.
That said, it's hard to know why Rich seemed to suggest that the overall decline may have been caused by black and Hispanic students. That said, technical bungles were the reliable norm during Rich's tenure as a Times education reporter.
Inevitably, an explanation suggests itself: The New York Times doesn't care about public schools, or about the kids who attend them.
We've reported on this technical bungling, at the Times and everywhere else, for way too many years now. At some point, a sensible person comes to see that he's wasting his time in such endeavors, which fly in the face of massive resistance on a very large scale.
Average scores have risen, a lot, in the years since the NAEP began in the early 1970s. Average scores have risen, a lot, in the years since the Main NAEP began in 1990.
What hasn't changed in the massive indifference to such topics within our major news organizations. What hasn't changed is the massive indifference to the school lives of low-income kids among our favorite TV stars, including such well-known stars as Chris, Chris, Lawrence and Rachel.
If past patterns hold, the new NAEP scores will be released later this month. We won't heard a word about this from our favorite liberal stars.
We also haven't heard a word about the death of Matthew McCree. He was 15 years old, and black, but he didn't get killed in a tribally useful way. For this reason, your liberal elites have sent you a message:
His life in his New York school didn't matter. He never called Donald Trump a moron, so our top TV stars don't care.
You've also never heard this: As usual, let's waste our time today. Let's record the gains in average scores on Grade 8 math since 1996, the earliest year which affords clean statistical comparisons on the Main NAEP.
Average scores have risen a lot since 1996! You've never heard a word about that on your favorite TV shows, where school lives plainly don't matter, and neither do low-income kids:
Gains in average scores, 1996-2015On their face, those are large score gains, especially by black and Hispanic kids. (As of 2013, the gains were even larger.) But even as public school teachers get assailed for their haplessness and for their ratty unions, you've never heard these score gains discussed on your favorite TV shows.
Grade 8 math, public schools, NAEP:
All students: 12.48 points
Black students: 20.57 points
White students: 11.56 points
Hispanic students: 20.29 points
Asian-American students: 17.91 points (since 2000)
Admit it—not even once! On our favorite TV shows, our public schools, their teachers and kids, are totally disappeared.
Our stars don't care about Matthew McCree, age 15, who didn't get killed in the right way. To our biggest TV stars, the school lives of our low-income kids very much don't matter.