Changes in NAEP scores under Bloomberg!


Let’s take a look at the record: Buried under all the confusion, there was some intriguing information in this morning’s report about New York City’s new test scores.

On their face, the passing rates for New York City didn’t look bad when compared with scores from around the state:
HERNANDEZ AND GEBELOFF (8/8/13): Even with the drop in scores, New York City still outperformed the state’s other large school districts—in Rochester, for example, only 5 percent of students passed in reading and math. And despite its large number of disadvantaged students, New York City almost matched the state’s performance as a whole.
In New York City, 26 percent passed the reading tests, 30 percent passed in math. Statewide, the numbers were barely better. Statewide, 31 percent passed math, the same number passed reading.

These statistics can’t give a full picture. But the passing rates for the city were quite close to those for the state.

This raises a question. What kind of progress has occurred under the billionaire mayor? Despite the confusion sown by the Times, the current tests can’t be used to make that determination, since this is the first year these tests have been given.

But as Kevin Drum noted a few days ago, there is a way to get a rough idea of the amount of progress under Bloomberg. You can look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of educational testing.

In his post, Drum gave Bloomberg a mediocre grade, looking at changes in test scores from 2003 to 2011. That said, we’re a tiny bit queasy about Drum’s method, in two different ways:

First, Drum compared Gotham’s gains to those for “Large Cities.” There’s nothing gigantically wrong with that, but the NAEP includes some fairly small cities in that category. Apples and kumquats alert!

Second, New York was starting with higher scores than some other big cities. It’s worth remembering a point like that when we make such comparisons.

(Also: No disaggregation!)

That said, let’s supplement Drum’s comparisons with a narrower set. Let’s compare score gains by black kids over that period in eight large cities which were already taking full part in the NAEP in 2003.

In eighth grade math, the score gains look like this:
Score gains, Grade 8 math, 2003-2011, black students
Atlanta: 21 points
Boston: 21 points
Chicago: 15 points
Cleveland: No change
Houston: 11 points
Los Angeles: 12 points
New York: 9 points
San Diego: 5 points
Los Angeles gained more than New York, but New York was still 17 points ahead in average score. It was still ahead of Atlanta and Chicago, but only by very small margins. And by the way:

By a very rough rule of them, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year. By that measure, all these cities, except Cleveland and maybe San Diego, are showing large gains.

This is the way it looks for eighth grade reading. Warning! Gains will be smaller:
Score gains, Grade 8 reading, 2003-2011, black students
Atlanta: 12 points
Boston: 2 points
Chicago: 2 points
Cleveland: -4 points
Houston: 3 points
Los Angeles: 10 points
New York: 4 points
San Diego: 3 points
Here are the score gains for fourth graders:
Score gains, Grade 4 math, 2003-2011, black students
Atlanta: 10 points
Boston: 14 points
Chicago: 10 points
Cleveland: 1 point
Houston: 7 points
Los Angeles: 8 points
New York: 7 points
San Diego: 10 points

Score gains, Grade 4 reading, 2003-2011, black students
Atlanta: 12 points
Boston: 9 points
Chicago: 3 points
Cleveland: -4 points
Houston: 5 points
Los Angeles: 9 points
New York: 8 points
San Diego: 9 points
New York’s gains were smaller than some. Their average scores are still higher than most. If that rough rule of thumb can be trusted, progress is being made in these major cities, in math more so than in reading.

Final point, once again: Passing rates on New York’s new statewide tests can’t be meaningfully compared to passing rates on last year’s tests. Everyone on the planet gets that, except for people within the reach of the Times Confusion Machine.

To use the NAEP Data Explorer: Click here, then click on MAIN NDE. From there, you're on your own.


  1. But, hasn't anyone else said that Zimmerman was still in the vehicle when told we don't need you to do that?

  2. Thanks Bob, great summary. Now it's for the rest of us who care about public school education to link to this page and get the facts of real progress out to more of the public. The mainstream media obviously won't do it for us, they have their crisis narrative to propagate.

  3. Just commented the following at the bottom of Kevin Drum's post:

    "It would be nice if Mother Jones avoided replicating the mainstream narrative ("This isn't a massive failure...") of mediocre or worse performance by our public schools. On average, over the last 15-20 years, the NAEP shows they have done a good to great job raising students' reading and math scores, New York included. A ten-point increase on the NAEP is roughly a one grade level boost. So the scores Drum displays show that NYC 8th graders have boosted their math performance an entire grade between 2003 and 2011. Fantastic! 4th grade math scores increased 9 points, nearly an entire grade point, also fantastic. 4th grade reading scores were raised 7 points. Scores broken down by ethnicity show similar consistent and impressive gains. The outlier of the four main categories (4th and 8th grade math and reading) is 8th grade reading. An excellent post on this topic is at, which also disaggregates the 'large public schools' category and compares only truly large districts to New York."

    1. Drum wrote a piece a while back where he makes your point. It's called The Kids Are Alright. In that post, however, he misinterpreted the graduation stats, and Somerby corrected him and he accepted correction. Anyway, he has made your point in the past, so he understands it.

    2. I realize Drum probably understands my point, but that actually makes it worse that he disappears it in this post and decides this time to replicate the mainstream media's 'public schools suck' narrative.

  4. Great work. Cleveland is interesting, because the Cleveland reformer is now in Chicago. Hmmm. Maybe they should have had you review her progress prior to handing her a giant contract in a huge midwestern city. Oh, well. Too late!

    Also, can I just say how horrible it is that you and Kevin and Drum are the only two journalists putting any effort into this? Two people. Jesus. That's appalling. I think it's great that you're checking one another's work, but one would like to think there are more than two people interested in this.

    I'm starting to think "America" doesn't "care about kids" as much as advertised. Maybe!

    Also, it is going to be a huge blow to the egos of people my age (middle aged) when they realize kids are not, in fact, less educated than they were. I'm convinced people swallow this stuff whole because it fits into a theme where they are much, much smarter than those that came after. My father agrees with me and he's ancient. He says it was always thus, and it was always bullshit.

  5. Bob,
    I have no idea if you read your comments but would like to see a post on the Newark public schools and whats resulted from the Mark Zuckerberg $100 million gift of 2 or 3 years ago. It bothered me at the time because of the promotion for Zuckerberg as the savior of Newark schools when he was only putting up $100 million (of which very little has been spent, only about $17 million as of a CNBC story a few months ago). Meanwhile, NJ taxpayers from the whole state put ONE BILLION dollars into Newark public schools EVERY year.

    Also would like to ask about school curriculum. Would a more nurturing environment for K-12 be good, in your opinion? I talked with someone who grew up in eastern Turkey. He said that when he was little, they stayed with the same teacher throughout all the primary school years. There were some classes with special teachers (music, maybe) once in a while but that main teacher was always there. School and separation from home are rough on kids and I wonder if it doesn't turn a lot of them off pretty early. Plus, the teacher is going to grow attached to children that he/she spends 5 or 6 years with. The "WE-BE" feeling is human nature (we be here before you got here; we be here when you're gone). Dealing with young children, I think it makes teachers harsh towards the ones who are a bit of a problem.

    1. I think Bob would likely answer that we should do what reality-based high-quality research tells us to do. Agendas, fads and ready acceptance of unevidenced pscyho-babble on all sides of education debate make it very difficult to find that research but it is out there.

      Outside of research, we might want to imitate the countries that have been highly successful educating kids. Again, this record has been and will be misinterpreted by those burdened by agendas ...

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