What liberals are told about rising NAEP scores!

MONDAY, JULY 8, 2013

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.

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.
Did you see the way she dropped the consideration of math? Go back and reread with great care!

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:
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
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:

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:
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
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:

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?


  1. I don't know anyone who thinks of Ravitch as a "prophet." It's another useless TDH hyperbole, in this case implicitly attacking many of his own readers. Ravitch basically seems to be someone who is now devoting her career to defending public education and teachers against the so-called "reformers." This includes giving attention and a platform to many others who are genuinely pro-education. That she was once part of the "accountability" promoters before changing her beliefs is no more dispositive on any of her current work than the same observation about the once-anti-Clinton and pro-Republican founder of Media Matters.

    One post (among over a hundred per month) that looks not to be supportable and is driven too much by the desired conclusion does not make someone a "piece of work." If you want to make a personal assault like that on someone (still another liberal), you need a lot more evidence than this. Otherwise, it would be legitimately described as gross cherry-picking to serve a favored narrative -- the very thing TDH claims to abhor.

    1. Surely you're not surprised, ul, to see Bob trashing people supporting the same goals he claims to support himself??
      TDH wants more hits...so we'll see lots of Zimmerman, not so much Snowden.

  2. I like Ravitch. She's a little unihnged sometimes, but then so is Michelle Rhee.

    This happens a lot with liberals and Democrats. They latch onto "sideswitchers" and make them leaders. I sort of understand it. Liberals don't really know how to fight conservatives. People who.used to be conservatives (or people who have rejected conservative positions) seem to be better at defending liberal positions than liberals are.
    Someone should do a study! Hah.
    Does this happen as often on the other side? Do conservatives embrace former liberals?

    1. Good point. David Brock is another example.

      Examples the other way include Clarence Thomas, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, David Horowitz, Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and author Robert Heinlein.

  3. Ravitch gets some attention, but she is not as highly regarded as you seem to believe. There is only a small part of the country that cares what anyone says on cable TV and an even smaller one that even knows who Ravitch is.

    And another thing. Who are these "liberals" to whom you make reference? Is there a "liberal" position on public education? Where would one find it stated or explained?

    1. Yes, I think there is are conservative and liberal positions, at least to a degree. The conservative position would include support for:

      -- NCLB
      -- Testing, in general
      -- Availability of alternative schools
      -- Vouchers
      -- Home schooling availability
      -- Traditional teaching methods, such as phonics

      And, opposition to
      -- Non-traditional teaching, such as Chicago Math.
      -- Extreme difficulty in firing incompetent teachers, such as is notorious in New York City
      -- Teachers' unions
      -- Educational "establishment", i.e., federal and state education departments and education professors.

    2. Three questions:

      What would the "liberal" positions be?

      Who are the "liberals" who support these positions?

      Have you noticed that most of what "conservatives" advocate for urban schools differs from what actually happens in their own children's schools?

    3. I think the liberal positions can be split into two pieces. The liberal politicians' positions are those that support the interests of the teachers' unions: job security, pay and benefits, and elimination of competition from alternatives to public schools, such as vouchers, home schooling, etc.

      The liberal educators' position would be support for ever new and specialized approaches to teaching and specialized services.

      One such that I left out above is bilingual education. Conservatives like me hate it because it doesn't work. We know that actual data shows that it harms the very non-English-speaking children it's supposed to help. Liberals generally like it, perhaps because it shows their tolerance and cosmopolitanism. A few liberals have looked at the awful results and honorably changed their minds

  4. Ravitch is a bum and a liar.


  5. Geez, another screed against Diane Ravitch, as if she were some horrible person. Why the hell doesn't Somerby post some of his concerns and comments right on Ravitch's blog site which I read every day. She allows opposing positions and challenges to her, she is very open to all commenters except some foul mouthed troll type. All I can say is that Ravitch is against the privatizers who want to destroy public education in America and replace it with charter schools and vouchers. She is one of the few public figures not bad mouthing teachers, their unions and public schools.

  6. As usual, David in Cal makes some gross misrepresentations.

    Conservatives would very much like to privatize public education. In the meantime, they favor more testing, more charter schools, merit pay for teacher base don test scores, and vouchers. They disregard two very important considerations:

    1. Public education is a cornerstone of democratic governance (which they've shown a real distaste for);

    2. There is no evidence to show that their "reforms" (testing, charters,merit pay) are need or work, and an abundance of research to show just the opposite.

    The problem in American public education is largely one of poverty. The data show it. Indeed, PISA scores (the scores usually cited by public education critics) are quite sensitive to income level. If one disaggregates U.S. scores the problem becomes clearer: the more poverty a school has, the lower its scores. The presumed do-gooders seem to think that more “competition” and ambitiousness will cause the schools to fix the effects of poverty. Those effects are pernicious.

    The public education system in a democratic republic is supposed to develop and nurture democratic character and citizenship. That's the kind of reform we need.

    And it's exactly the kind of reform the conservative "reformers" detest.

    1. Anon, you're certainly right that eduction results correlate pretty well with wealth. However, correlation isn't necessarily causation. In this case, I believe that the poverty and the bad educational results are both caused by the another factor, namely culture.

      An additional factor, IMHO, is well-intended educational reforms that had the unintended consequence of weakening public education. Wealthy or educated families can make up for the school's weaknesses. Poor, uneducated families have less ability to do so.

    2. Wow, you read this blog religiously, and you can still say,

      "well-intended educational reforms that had the unintended consequence of weakening public education."

      After seeing proof so many times that public education has not weakened ... what was it about leading a horse to water?

    3. Anon, I have in mind specific examples. One was an experimental mathematics program used in my daughter's 2nd grade in Berkeley almost 40 years ago. As math people, my wife and I understood what this program was trying to do. However, it was not well designed and really badly implemented. The result was that 2nd graders learned very little 2nd grade math at school.

      My wife and I had the background to provide the training that was missing at school, but some families would have been less able to do so.

    4. Basing policy decisions upon single examples is not a good way to go. Did you rewrite your actuary tables when you saw a young man die?

  7. Here's a comment from Diane Ravitch's blog with her own typos and grammar mistakes. Big deal she's human and she's prolific so I feel she's allowed a few typographical errors because she's got so much on her plate with traveling, speaking, writing books and other articles. Anyhow here's her comment: "A.central feature of the corporate reform narrative is the oft-repeated claim that our public schools are failing. They elite e that if they say it often enough, the media will repeat their narrative.

    But it is not true.

    Read this commentary from Indiana, where the privatization movement has slandered the public schools repeatedly, as a prelude to their takeover. The privatized schools get worse results, but no one cares about that. The important goal for the reformers is to disrupt, destroy, and take control of public schools and their funding."