WHERE THE NAEP SCORES ARE: Substantial gains wherever you look!


Part 2 in this series

Part 3—The three faces of NAEP: Sean Reardon is a Stanford professor. He's doing tons of work about the educational opportunities and attainments of our low-income kids.

In April 2013, he wrote a lengthy piece on this general topic for the New York Times Sunday Review. He described a growing gap in academic achievement between American children from rich families and American children who come from families which are middle-class or poor.

Reardon discussed some possible reasons for this growing achievement gap. Midway through his lengthy piece, he made a very unusual statement.

In the passage shown below, Reardon said he was dispelling some myths. He referred to results from our one reliable domestic testing program:
REARDON (4/28/13): Before we can figure out what's happening here, let's dispel a few myths.

The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline. In fact, average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation's Report Card, have been rising—substantially in math and very slowly in reading—since the 1970s. The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation. The gains are not as large in reading and they are not as large for older students, but there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group.

The widening income disparity in academic achievement is not a result of widening racial gaps in achievement, either. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades...
Reardon was citing results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the so-called Nation's Report Card. His statements, which were basically accurate, were also highly unusual within the narrative-driven world of our upper-end press.

Say what? According to Reardon, "the average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11." That represents "a two-year improvement [in math skills] in a single generation."

Reardon also made a glancing remark about our most frequently-cited achievement gaps—the gaps which exists between white kids and their black and Hispanic peers. Those gaps have been narrowing, if only slowly, the Stanford professor said.

In his lengthy piece in the Sunday Review, Reardon was mainly concerned with "a growing educational gap between the rich and the middle class," and with the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In the main, he wasn't concerned with the black-white educational gap. He wasn't trying to offer a full overview of the progress, or lack of same, which seems to be found in the past several decades of NAEP scores.

That said, Reardon did something very unusual in the brief passage we've cited. He described the very large overall progress which seems to be found in those data.

He seemed to take that appearance of progress at face value. In the process, he said something you'll never see journalists say:

These Kids Today! Based upon our most reliable data, they're years ahead of where their parents were back in the day!

Can Professor Reardon say that? Over the past several decades, mainstream journalism about public schools has been based on the suppression of such information.

We wrote about Reardon's piece in real time for a very basic reason. Even today, we don't think we've ever seen anyone else report or discuss the large score gains which are present in the NAEP data wherever a person may look.

Check that! We don't think we've ever seen any journalist do that in our major newspapers—in the Washington Post or the New York Times. As we noted yesterday, Richard Rothstein described those gains, in fleeting fashion, late in a lengthy piece in Slate in August 2011. Aside from Reardon's fleeting treatment, we don't think we've ever seen those gains reported in the New York Times.

In their reporting on the NAEP, our journalists do a very strange thing. Routinely, they report the gaps—and disappear the gains! If we might borrow from the language of our latest Ivy League docent, this conduct, which persists year after year, is a form of journalistic malpractice.

Large score gains appear all through the NAEP data. To cite a specific example, black kids are massively outperforming their parents in the way Reardon described. Hispanic kids are showing the same sort of progress.

Very few people have ever heard any such facts. The refusal to report such basic facts is journalistic malpractice. It constitutes a grave offense against the American public interest.

Good God! What sorts of people refuse to give the public such news? Let's revisit what Rothstein wrote, along with the basic statistics:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago....The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels.
"You'd never know it from the state of public alarm," Rothstein said. But black kids today "have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago."

"White students have also improved," Rothstein said. As you may recall, these were the data in question, updated through the year when Rothstein's piece appeared:
Average scores, Grade 4 math, National Assessment of Educational Progress
White students / black students

1990: 218.63 / 187.42


2007: 247.88 / 222.01
2009: 247.85 / 221.98
2011: 248.70 / 223.80
Sure enough! By 2007, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math than white fourth-graders had scored in 1990. But so what? Within the American public, very few people have ever heard that any such score gains have ever occurred. They're constantly given a different impression. Scripted, sneering American journalists have refused to report, discuss or analyze such basic facts.

Tomorrow, we'll offer a quick overview of the kinds of score gains which exist in the NAEP's voluminous data. We'll mention the gains which exist in each of the NAEP's major programs—in The Three Faces of NAEP.

Concerning those voluminous data, we will only say this:

You can lead the horse to voluminous data. But at least within the American context, you can't make the journalist drink.

Tomorrow, we'll offer a quick overview of the score gains recorded by the NAEP. When we do, we'll ask an obvious question: Should we take those score gains at face value, in the way Reardon did?

We'll consider that question tomorrow. For today, let's restrict ourselves to the score gains-in-themselves, the score gains which never bark.

In fairness, we shouldn't say never! In August 2011, Rothstein cited those score gains in fleeting fashion, in paragraph 15 of an 18-paragraph essay for Slate. Two years later, Reardon briefly described those score gains midway through a lengthy essay for the New York Times.

Today's children are two years ahead of their parents, the Stanford professor said. Have you ever seen anyone else discuss such facts in the press?

Today's 9-year-old children are two years ahead of their parents in math? That sounds like news to us! But when it comes to the public schools, the modern press corps is in the thrall of certain well-known poisonous narratives. These narratives have come, at least in part, from grasping corporate elites.

According to our only reliable data, These (Black) Kids Today are doing much better in school. What kinds of people would work so hard to keep such facts from view?

Tomorrow: Overview and possible concerns


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