TALES OF THE NAEP: Universally praised, almost never discussed!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 7, 2020

Plus, the allure of the gloom:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep) has long been praised as our most reliable educational testing program.

As far as we know, the Naep is our only (presumptively) reliable domestic testing program. Our statewide testing programs have routinely been compromised, in a wide array of ways, including in the widespread cheating scandals which finally came to light through the work of USA Today and the Atlanta Constitution.

(Full disclosure! We first wrote about such problems in the late 1970s, in the Baltimore Sun.)

The statewide programs are hard to trust; only the Naep seems to soldier on. How well regarded is the Naep? Way back when, Kevin Drum described the Naep as shown below in a report for the September 2012 print edition of Mother Jones.

Kristina Ryzga had written a longer report about San Francisco's Mission High School. In a companion piece, Drum started like this:
DRUM (9/12): Standardized tests may not tell us everything there is to know about a school like Mission High, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. And one of those uses is myth busting—in particular, the myth that America’s schools are in a state of terminal decline and students aren’t learning as much as those of a generation ago.

The real story is more complicated, and the best place to see it is the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card, the “gold standard,” or just plain NAEP. It provides a long-term set of results going back to the early 1970s, and unlike state tests, which vary substantially and are sometimes dumbed down to produce higher scores, the NAEP is widely trusted in the educational community. It can’t tell us anything about particular students or schools (since only a fraction of the nation’s schools participate), but it can give us a pretty good idea of how national averages have changed over time.
Drum's report appeared beneath an upbeat pair of headlines. The headlines chided those who would roll their eyes at the spectacular dullards long known as These Kids Today:
The Kids Are All Right.
Students today score better on tests than you did.
Drum cited data from the Naep's Long Term Trend Assessment, one of two complementary studies conducted by the federal program. The first two myths he busted were these:

That day's kids were scoring much better on the Naep than their parents and/or grandparents had done back in the 1970s, Drum noted And not only that:

"In fact, scores for blacks and Latinos are up more than scores for whites," Drum correctly reported. These were the first two points Drum made in his upbeat, myth-busting piece.

As far as we know, Drum was right about the Naep; the program is "widely trusted in the educational community." It's also routinely described by mainstream journalists as the "gold standard" of educational testing, to the extent that mainstream journalists ever discuss the Naep at all.

In fact, mainstream journalists rarely discuss the Naep. As we've noted in the past, the Naep is the educational testing program which is widely praised but almost never analyzed or discussed.

Mainstream news orgs almost never report the basic facts which Drum reported that day. If you read the New York Times or the Washington Post, you have basically never been told about the large score gains Drum cited.

Instead, you've had a basic piece of propaganda hammered into your head—propaganda advancing the gloomy myths Drum debunked and busted that day.

America’s schools are in a state of terminal decline? Students aren’t learning as much as those of a generation ago?

Variants of these gloomy myths have dominated our upper-end "education reporting" over the past many years. Starting in the 1990s, these myths were widely used to recommend certain kinds of "education reform"—types of reform which were being recommended by the a group of wealthy benefactors including Bill Gates and the Waltons.

If you read the Post or the Times, you've been served the myths of decline over and over again. On the rare occasions when major news orgs bother to discuss public schools at all, the gloom has tended to be general all over the upper-end press.

Indeed, as of last month, the gloom even seemed to have captured our analysts' Uncle Drum! They came to us with tears in their eyes on two separate occasions.

Skillfully, we tried to explain their uncle's gloomy heresies. It started on December 17 with a gloom-inflected piece in which Drum offered this:
DRUM (12/17/19): [P]erformance in 4th and 8th grade on the national NAEP test has indeed improved. But a lot of that improvement washes out in high school.
Drum was now working from the so-called "Main Naep," the companion study to the Naep's Long Term Trend Assessment. He presented charts showing that average scores at Grade 12 have slightly declined in reading since the early 1990s, even after "disaggregation," and have grown by only about 5 percent in math.

Oof! The nation's declining drop-out rate makes comparisons of this type difficult at the Grade 12 level. Where lower-performing teens were once more likely to leave school, they're now more likely to stay in school through graduation.

This decline in the drop-out rate is generally viewed as an educational success. But it likely has the effect of reducing average scores at the Grade 12 level, invalidating comparisons over time for most purposes—and explaining why larger improvement at Grade 8 may seem to have "washed out.".

We talked our crying analysts down, but their uncle struck again! On December 30, he authored a somewhat puzzling chart which led him to offer this gloomy assessment (sub-headline included):
DRUM (12/30/19): The Black-White Test Score Gap Remains Intractable

The gap in achievement test scores between blacks and whites starts in kindergarten and rises steadily with age.
The chart below shows the gap measured in standard deviations, which normalizes the size of the gap between different tests with different scales. It starts at about 0.5 standard deviations in kindergarten and rises to just over 1.0 standard deviations by college.

The worst part of this is that we’ve made no recent progress on it. The gap closed some during the ’70s and ’80s, but since then nothing has changed. This is one of our greatest failures as a society, and it represents something real, not just an artifact of the way we do testing. Until we address it, we will never even begin to make progress on racial justice in America.
On this occasion, Drum used figures from the Grade 4 and Grade 8 Naep, but he eschewed Grade 12. Instead, he compared black/white average scores on the SAT and the LSAT, a procedure which makes no apparent sense.

(There is no control on who takes the SAT or the LSAT. Black and white average scores are not drawn from "representative samples" of the two groups. There is no way to have confidence in such comparative scores.)

Set the SATs and the LSATs to the side! In the highlighted passage, Drum said that we've made no progress in reducing black-white achievement gaps since the 1980s.

That isn't true on the Grade 4 and Grade 8 Naep, two types of data Drum chose to present. For example, here are some data in Grade 8 math:
Black/white achievement gap, Grade 8 math, Naep
1996: 40.22 points
2019: 32.25 points
Over those 23 years, we've gone from a very large achievement gap to a smaller achievement gap which is still very large.

Last year's gap was very large but, in fact, it was smaller. In fairness, the following point must also be made:

The gap persists despite large score gains by black kids. The average score of black eighth-graders rose by 19.93 points over that 23-year span—by almost two academic years, according to a widely used but very rough rule of thumb.

The gap persists because white eighth-graders are also scoring better. This is the type of upbeat point Drum made in 2012, before the gloom took control.

There's good and there's bad in Naep data. Some of the bad is awful. But in our view, it doesn't make sense to call in the gloom on a selective basis.

That said, the gloom has massively prevailed when our upper-end press corps pretends to discuss our public schools. That's why we were so surprised by a December 6 opinion column in the New York Times.

Unheard of! In her column, Emily Hanford reported an accurate fact. Reading scores on the Naep have been on the rise in Mississippi over the past six years!

According to the Times' identity line, Hanford is senior education correspondent for a branch of American Public Media, a major producer of pubic radio programs. In reporting upbeat news from the Naep, she was breaking every rule in the upper-end journalist playbook!

Hanford works for American Public Media; her claims appeared in the New York Times. Needless to say, the journalistic misfeasance turned out to be remarkably vast.

Can you trust anything you read in the New York Times? You're asking a very good question.

We'll start to answer your question tomorrow. In this, our year of thinking anthropologically, our answer—it's anthropologically sound—will turn out to be no.

Tomorrow: The claim

Thursday: The letter

37 comments:

  1. "Can you trust anything you read in the New York Times?"

    Why, but of course you can't.

    On the other hand, you may want, once in a while, to skim through that and other establishment rags, to find out what particular 'narratives' they're pushing these days. And try to figure out why. Though usually it isn't exactly a rocket science: standard orwellian zombification.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Establishment defense contractors yell "Jump!"
      Trump asks, "How high?"

      Mao,
      You been had, sucker.

      Delete
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      Delete
  2. "widespread cheating scandals"

    What is the evidence that cheating went any further than Atlanta? There haven't been cheating scandals in CA that I've read about. I don't recall them occurring other places either, except for Baltimore/DC and Atlanta. Perhaps this is a Southern phenomena and not widespread at all. Perhaps it is limited to those states that rely on meeting NCLB standards for their funding, and not found in states where funding isn't so dependent on school test scores?

    But Somerby is making a very serious allegation without supplying any support for cheating as a "widespread" practice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Google “Standardized test cheating California” and you’ll find this:
      https://www.scpr.org/blogs/education/2013/03/28/13089/report-cheating-on-standardized-tests-in-75-percen/

      and a lot more.

      Delete
    2. "With more than 10,000 schools, Education Department Spokesman Paul Hefner said there is invariably some cheating going on.

      Your source says: “There are any numbers of ways where, either on purpose or accidentally, folks can undermine the integrity of standardized tests," Hefner said. "It’s an unfortunate truth.”

      It then goes on to say that CA has taken active measures since 2012-13 to counteract cheating and ensure the validity of its testing.

      That suggests that if it were a widespread practice (which your source doesn't support), it isn't any more.

      Delete
  3. Pretty incestuous to be quoting Drum about NAEP when Drum habitually took his info from Somerby to begin with, back in that day.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why indeed would Kevin Drum use LSAT scores to compare racial performance? LSAT is the law school admission test. He might as well have used MCAT scores (medical college admission test). But also, why use SAT scores and not ACT scores? ACT is more of an achievement test (based on acquired knowledge) whereas SAT has been more of an aptitude test (based on cognitive reasoning skills rather than crystallized knowledge). The ACT is taken by students wishing to attend Eastern and Midwestern schools whereas the SAT is taken by those wishing to attend Western schools. Kevin Drum is from the West Coast but I'll bet he didn't give it a second thought, because, like the many journalists Somerby criticizes, Drum isn't an expert on education and doesn't have grown children, so he just doesn't know who takes which kinds of tests. But Somerby is friendly toward Drum, so he gets a pass.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe he has LSAT confused with PSAT?

      Delete
  5. “Variants of these gloomy myths have dominated our upper-end "education reporting" over the past many years. Starting in the 1990s, these myths were widely used to recommend certain kinds of "education reform"—types of reform which were being recommended by the a group of wealthy benefactors including Bill Gates and the Waltons.”

    But, the scores *have* increased.

    Is that possibly due to some of these reforms?

    Were these reforms at least partially motivated by concern about the achievement gaps?

    “The National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep) has long been praised as our most reliable educational testing program.”

    Somerby himself has invariably described the test as the “gold standard” for years, without suggesting that there might be issues with it. He enthusiastically embraced the test results when he first heard about them, which seems to have happened some time after he began blogging.

    And, from Drum:
    “The Kids Are All Right.
    Students today score better on tests than you did.”

    It’s interesting to see Drum, and Somerby, equate “scoring better on tests” with “the kids are all right.”

    That is questionable, imho.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Here is how The Representation Project evaluated the Golden Globes:

    "The 77th Annual Golden Globes, hosted by the irreverent, anti-celebrity Ricky Gervais, celebrated a year of film and television, a year which saw significant contributions by women filmmakers that were overlooked by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the voting body for the awards. Films directed by women that were acclaimed by critics and audiences alike included Little Women, The Farewell, Honey Boy, Harriet, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Hustlers, Booksmart, and Queen and Slim. The films nominated for top awards this year were not only all directed by men, but they were mostly all about men as well.

    As the host noted, no women were nominated in the directing category, screenplay category or in either of the Best Picture categories (Drama and Musical/Comedy). Noting that “that’s bad,” Gervais went on to attempt a joke about the situation, which flopped in the room and was roasted on social media. In the 77 year history of the Golden Globes, a woman director has only been nominated seven times. The last woman director nominated was Ava Duvernay for Selma, and that was more than five years ago. It’s been more than 35 years since the only woman director won a Golden Globe—Barbra Streisand for Yentl."

    ReplyDelete
  7. Among African American students, the college admission rate is up, as is the retention rate and the 6-year graduation rate.

    ReplyDelete
  8. We liberals are all feeling quite a bit of gloom these days because of Trump. Maybe some of that is rubbing off onto other reporting.

    If Somerby isn't feeling as much gloom himself, that is yet more evidence that he isn't much of a liberal any more (if he ever was).

    ReplyDelete
  9. “The Kids Are All Right.
    Students today score better on tests than you did.”

    But now, since we are being told about the (so-called) bogus results in Mississippi, it appears that we might not be able to assume that higher naep test scores actually mean that our children are doing better. We will need to read-examine every bit of naep data in light of this.

    Next, let’s dive into those achievement gaps. Are they also statistically bogus?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ‘re-examine’

      Delete
    2. It isn't a bogus result when kids are routinely held back in other states (to which MS has been compared) in the same manner as MS recently adopted. It is a change in MS scores, but the previous ones were the bogus results because MS wasn't being compared to other states on the same basis. Now that it is being compared on the same basis, the current scores are the correct ones (because they are produced in the same way as in other states), not the previous ones which put MS at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the tested states.

      If students are held back in order to give them extra practice in reading before they move on to more difficult material, that is most likely a good thing, since it is what other states also do. It is a common educational practice, recently adopted by MS in its overhaul of its education system.

      Our concern should be about what benefits kids. There is no evidence that this change was made in order to "game" the NAEP or manipulate scores. There is every reason to believe that it was done to benefit the kids who were not learning to read sufficiently well during the first 3 years of their schooling.

      But Somerby is no doubt going to say something cynical (based on what he has already said and now hints). I am glad he is nowhere near children these days and has no active role in education any more.

      These ugly articles are not a help to anyone. They are bile that pollutes the hard work being done by those who do the hard work of educating children.

      Delete
    3. It isn't a bogus result when kids are routinely held back in other states (to which MS has been compared) in the same manner as MS recently adopted.

      Er, no. Mississippi now holds back students in much higher numbers than other states. It will be a good exercise for you to look up how much higher.

      Now that it [Mississippi’s NAEP result] is being compared on the same basis, the current scores are the correct ones (because they are produced in the same way as in other states).

      Er, no. Mississippi has a much more aggressive approach to retention in grade during the first few years of school.

      If students are held back in order to give them extra practice in reading before they move on to more difficult material, that is most likely a good thing, since it is what other states also do.

      It seems that Mississippi is spending money on intensive teaching and teacher training. That’s likely a good thing, regardless of what other states do, but, no it’s not what other states do, or at least not to the extent that Mississippi is doing it.

      It is a common educational practice, recently adopted by MS….

      Er, no. Mississippi’s aggressive approach to deny promotion to students not deemed ready is unique.

      There is every reason to believe that it was done to benefit the kids….

      There is. Who says otherwise? The only surprise is that it’s Mississippi.

      These ugly articles are not a help to anyone.

      These articles report what is. If that doesn’t “help” people like you, who can’t read for comprehension, then that’s too bad.

      Delete
    4. MS doesn't hold students back in much greater numbers than all states. Some hold them back with the same frequency, others less. It varies from state to state. MS is not the only one or the one holding back the greatest number.

      And no, this is not a unique practice.

      IF you are going to make these assertions, cite a source and provide links. Otherwise you are just making shit up. I cited my own links a few weeks back when Somerby first brought this up. You need to do the same if you are going to contest what I said.

      Delete
    5. > MS doesn't hold students back in much greater numbers than all states.

      It does by percentage.

      > Some hold them back with the same frequency,

      No, they don’t.

      > others less.

      All others.

      > It varies from state to state.

      It does, but Mississippi is on top.

      > MS is not the only one or the one holding back the greatest number.

      There can only be one greatest, and it’s Mississippi

      > And no, this is not a unique practice.

      Retention in grade is not unique; the magnitude is.

      > IF you are going to make these assertions, cite a source and provide links.

      Fordham Institute

      Otherwise you are just making shit up. I cited my own links a few weeks back when Somerby first brought this up. You need to do the same if you are going to contest what I said.

      Nice bluff, though. Well played!

      Delete
    6. I clicked on the supposed link to Fordham Institute and nothing happened. I still think you are just making shit up.

      Delete
    7. I should have tested the link. My bad. Of course, instead of accusing me of lying, you could have used the google on "Fordham Institute Mississippi NAEP" The first result would have been https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/mississippi-rising-partial-explanation-its-naep-improvement-it-holds-students

      But it's my claim, so it's my burden of proof and production.

      Nice doubling down on the bluff, though. Doubly well played!

      Delete
    8. This report says that MS is one of 16 states that holds students back:

      https://hechingerreport.org/mississippi-made-the-biggest-leap-in-national-test-scores-this-year-is-this-controversial-law-the-reason-why/

      That means MS is NOT unique in doing this, as you claimed.

      The estimates made by the Fordham author are silly, especially in the face of the actual figures quoted in the table. It is obvious that MS's higher rates are temporary and arise because of implementing the policy for the first time, not because of any stricter rules for the state.

      Your source says: "When it first enacted its retention policy in 2003–04, Florida’s third grade retention rose as high as 14 percent before steadily declining; it has risen again in recent years."

      Note that MS's rate was 8% not 14% (as in FL).

      My source describes the additional literacy efforts enacted by MS. Holding students back was not the only thing they did to address reading problems.

      You can assume that MS was trying to game the NAEP or you can accept the explanation of the state education administrators that their efforts were to make sure that no child proceeded to the higher grades without sound reading skills.

      Delete
    9. That means MS is NOT unique in doing this, as you claimed.

      Stop lying about this. Of course, Mississippi is not unique in having a policy of retention in grade. I've even said so. Mississippi is unique in currently having such an aggressive policy that leads to a very high retention rate.

      Note that MS's rate was 8% not 14% (as in FL).

      Note that we're talking about 2018-2019, not your figures from 2003.

      My source describes the additional literacy efforts enacted by MS.

      So what?

      You can assume that MS was trying to game the NAEP....

      I'm not. It looks like Mississippi is trying a very un-Mississippian approach to help students who are falling behind. That's not the point. The results of Mississippi's efforts will inevitably keep failing students from taking the 4th-grade NAEP, which will inevitably increase the scores.

      Try to focus. TDH isn't slamming Mississippi. He's criticizing reporters for not finding out the reason that the scores went up. It has nothing to do with phonics or any other program that Mississippi has implemented. We'll have to wait several years to see how those programs worked.

      Delete
    10. You didn't qualify unique with "current." You added that now to make your claim seem true. You said:

      "Er, no. Mississippi’s aggressive approach to deny promotion to students not deemed ready is unique."

      It isn't unique. It the same as what 16 other states have done.

      I posted a link to an article about why MS is doing all this -- there was a lawsuit. This improvement is the result of a combination of improvements and an investment of money.

      I said, there is no reason to assume that the increase in NAEP scores is solely because of holding students back, especially since 16 other states do the same thing.

      It is incorrect for you to say "It has nothing to do with phonics or any other program...". You do not know that. Simply holding kids back with no other intervention won't permit them to read better a year later. The article I linked to says that they also modify the curriculum and do different things with the held-back students to figure out why they aren't reading and bring them up to grade level. Those programs started in 2013. It is entirely plausible they have produced the changes in scores.

      But more than that, YOU DON'T KNOW ENOUGH TO SAY THAT THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE IMPROVEMENT. There is no way to tell that by the fact of holding students back alone. So it is wrong to dismiss the possibility that these other efforts produced real change. Because all of the efforts were carried out simultaneously, they are confounded and you cannot isolate any particular one determine its impact on NAEP scores.

      It is cynical in the extreme for Somerby to claim that merely holding back students will improve scores. As mentioned in the article I linked to, holding back students in FL neither increased nor decreased their likelihood of graduating. But MS is not simply holding back students. They are also modifying many other things, including teacher training, credentialing practices, and teaching methods. Hanford, if Somerby or you took the time to read her new book, explains the science behind literacy and why it is likely that the new method produced change, with cites of studies of the method she discussed in her op-ed. Since neither you nor Somerby ever takes anything in context, you ignore that data about the efficacy of her approach (Somerby reduces it to merely "phonics") and make a specious claim that is not supported by circumstances.

      Then you have nerve to say "Try to focus." When you are the ignorant bully who won't ever admit he is wrong.

      Delete
    11. You didn't qualify unique with "current." You added that now to make your claim seem true.

      One, it isn’t my claim. It’s the claim of people who have studied the numbers. Two, for godsake try to focus. The discussion is about current NAEP scores and the recent practice of the state of Mississippi when it comes to promotion.

      It isn't unique. It the same as what 16 other states have done.

      No, 16 states and DC have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade. No other state has the retention rate of Mississippi.

      So you didn’t bother to follow the link I gave you. Horse. Water. Lead to.

      I posted a link to an article about why MS is doing all this -- there was a lawsuit. This improvement is the result of a combination of improvements and an investment of money.

      For godsake try to focus. This isn’t about *why* Mississippi is doing this or *how* they’re doing it. It’s about the possibly short-term effect on the NAEP scores.

      I said, there is no reason to assume that the increase in NAEP scores is solely because of holding students back, especially since 16 other states do the same thing.

      There’s plenty of reason. 16 other states are *not* doing the same thing.
      Horse. Water. Etc.

      It is incorrect for you to say "It has nothing to do with phonics or any other program...". You do not know that. Simply holding kids back with no other intervention won't permit them to read better a year later.

      The effects of phonics and teach training or whatever haven’t been in place long enough for us to know. In 2015, Mississippi trailed the national average in 4th-grade reading by 9 points. In subsequent years, their retention rates increased significantly, and by 2019, they were within one point of the national average. Large numbers of unpromoted and unprepared (one hopes only temporarily) kids didn’t hit the 2019 4th-grade NAEP tests. And the cohort of the unpromoted has grown.

      Simply holding kids back with no other intervention won't permit them to read better a year later.

      Try harder to focus. It’s three years of kids being held back, with Mississippi holding back even more students from the 2018-2019 academic year. Which affects the 4th-grade NAEP-taking population. No one says the kids are being held back with no other intervention.

      It is cynical in the extreme for Somerby to claim that merely holding back students will improve scores.

      It’s statistical and nothing to do with TDH’s cynicism. A large percentage of Mississippi’s underperforming students are held back before they reach the 4th grade and the NAEP tests given in that year. What do you think will happen to scores when the test-taking population consists of better-prepared students?

      Since neither you nor Somerby ever takes anything in context….

      Why doesn’t your head just explode from the cognitive dissonance? Are you immune?

      Somerby reduces it to merely "phonics”

      I beg of you, try to focus. TDH criticizes those who think the increased NAEP scores are due solely to phonics.

      Then you have nerve to say "Try to focus." When you are the ignorant bully who won't ever admit he is wrong.

      I was wrong once. 1969. May. Third week I think, and I ‘fessed up then to my error. You’ll have to take my word for it.

      How does my pointing out your erroneous comments constitute bullying? You think I’m wrong and have no trouble pointing that out. I don’t count that as bullying. Really, Snowflake, how could someone you don’t know and presumably don’t care about have any significant effect on your life by posting non-personal remarks in the comment section of a blog?

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    12. You cannot draw the conclusion you wish to draw based on statistics. The data is confounded. If you do not understand this, we have nothing to talk about.

      Delete
    13. It's not the data that's confounded here, Sparky. And data that is missing could only support the statistical case (e.g., how many K-3 students were held back twice? how many kids held back before the 4th grade got a double promotion to the 5th grade so they could skip the NAEP?) But someone commenting in a different blog entry (perhaps it was even you) pointed out that the truly-draconian retention rate in Mississippi's grade 3 happened for the 2018-2019 school year and couldn't be factored into the 2019 NAEP. We'll have to wait until TDH writes his obsessive blog posts on the 2020 NAEP.

      Delete
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