WHERE THE NAEP SCORES ARE: "Truly spectacular gains," he said!


Part 1 in this series

Part 2—Who is Richard Rothstein: In late August 2011, Richard Rothstein presented a bit of a back-to-school essay in the pages of Slate.

Essentially, Rothstein's piece was a critique of certain kinds of "education reform." More specifically, it was a critique of the types of education reform which have proven very popular with press corps elites over the past many years.

Rothstein started with a glancing reference to a new film, Waiting For Superman, which was gaining attention and praise. Inevitably, the film cited the wonders of Finland's schools. It also advocated certain kinds of reform.

That said, the bulk of Rothstein's piece challenged the claims in a new book, Class Warfare, written by Steven Brill. Rothstein described the book as "another polemic against teacher unions and a paean to self-styled 'education reformers.' "

People can judge the tenets of various types of reform as they will. We'll focus on a remarkable, accurate claim Rothstein made late in his piece.

Late in his piece, Rothstein made the statement shown below. He described a truly remarkable fact—a type of fact our major news orgs have chosen to suppress:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. 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.
Say what? According to Rothstein, our only consistent data on student achievement showed that "public school performance ha[d] skyrocketed in the last two decades." He then cited a remarkable example:

"Black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago."

Could Richard Rothstein say that? As Rothstein noted, those data flew in the face of persistent, almost ubiquitous claims according to which "student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades."

Such gloomy, pessimistic claims had driven the movement for reform, Rothstein said. Rather plainly, that gloomy, pessimistic pattern has persisted to the present day.

Below, we'll show you the data to which Rothstein referred when he offered that specific example. Before we do so, let's look at his fuller statement. For better or worse, this was paragraph 15 of an 18-paragraph essay:
ROTHSTEIN: Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. 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. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning.
Was Rothstein allowed to say that? "Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education"—though you'd never know it from reading our major newspapers—he said that American public schools had recorded "truly spectacular gains" on our only reliable tests!

Who is Richard Rothstein? Unlike many of the people who shape our understanding of the state of the schools, Rothstein is a genuine education specialist. According to this official bio, he's Senior Fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. He's the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (Teachers College Press and EPI, 2008) and Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press 2004). He's also the author of The Way We Were? Myths and Realities of America’s Student Achievement (1998).

Specialists aren't always right in their assessments, of course. But in this case, Rothstein was citing extremely basic data from our longest-running testing program, the federally-run National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP).

The NAEP is routinely cited by our major newspapers, at least on the rare occasions when they stoop to the tiresome task of discussing our public schools. It's routinely described by such writers as "America's report card," and as "the gold standard" of domestic educational testing.

Reporters routinely cite the NAEP; they just never report the "spectacular gains" lodged in its basic data. Because sure enough! In the case of those black elementary school students, Rothstein's statement was right as rain.

In its most widely-cited component, the NAEP tests a large sample of American students in reading and math in Grade 4 and Grade 8. In his specific example, Rothstein was referring to score gains recorded by black kids on the Grade 4 math test.

Below, you see the data in question, updated through the year when Rothstein's essay appeared. Thanks to the NAEP's truly spectacular "Data Explorer," any reporter who had a computer and knew how to click could have accessed these scores:
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, there it was! As of 2007, black kids were scoring higher on the NAEP than white kids had scored in 1990. As Rothstein noted, score gaps persisted between the two groups because white students had recorded large score gains during that period too.

How should we interpret the size of those gaps and those gains? We'll discuss those questions tomorrow as we provide an overview of the NAEP's major testing programs.

But you can bet your sweet bippy on this: as of 1990, no one dreamed that black kids would exceed white kids' prevailing score on the NAEP math test in the course of just seventeen years. Having bet your sweet bippy on that, you can proceed to marvel at this:

When that "spectacular gain" occurred, your press corps chose to suppress it.

Tell the truth! Unless you've read past posts at this site, you have probably never heard about that striking example.

Rothstein presented that striking example in paragraph 15 of an 18-paragraph piece. His example appeared in Slate that day, then instantly disappeared.

In the larger sense, very few people have ever heard about the more general batch of "spectacular gains" to which Rothstein referred. As is clear in his text, Rothstein's "truly spectacular gains" also included the large score gains recorded by the country's white kids.

In large part because of the work of our journalists, very few people have ever heard that any such gains have occurred. We've heard that Estonia and Poland have wonderful schools. We've never been told about this.

On Sunday, a highly privileged ed world insider sniffed as she told the world about the "educational malpractice" which, she loftily said, is "common in American schools."

Malpractice can be where you find it. A judgmental person could spot malpractice as our press corps reports and suppresses facts about our American schools.

Tomorrow: What the Sam Hill is the NAEP?


  1. From The Confluence (https://riverdaughter.wordpress.com/):

    "3.) I swear, if I hear one more journalist say that Hillary is not transparent enough and therefore untrustworthy simply because she didn’t see any reason to tell everyone in the world about her pneumonia, I’m going to personally go to Atlanta and scream in Chris Cuomo’s ear to knock it the fuck off. Enough is enough. There’s simply no comparison between Hillary and Trump on the issue of transparency and disclosure. The double standard is deeply, DEEPLY offensive to women who have to sit thru this shit day after day. Maybe these channels don’t care if they lose their female audience. That’s how it looks anyway. No progress is being made here and if I were Hillary, I’d tell these news people that if they don’t like what she’s going to give them with respect to her medical records, they can shove it up their asses. She shouldn’t play this game anymore. Give them the exact number of details as Mitt Romney did and no more. She is not obligated to keep producing documentation just because the news organizations demand it. It’s not because she has anything to hide. It’s because she’s got better things to do with her time than try to satisfy the insatiable. "

    I second Riverdaughter. This stuff is DEEPLY offensive to women.

    Today Trump has announced he isn't going to talk about his health on Dr. Oz's show after all. Does no one find this outrageous?

    1. Kevin Drum, today:

      Can I gripe about something else as long as we're on the subject? Thanks. Here's the New York Times:

      But in selling his case, Mr. Trump stretched the truth, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and “never will.”

      The Washington Post doesn't even mention this, and needless to say, neither does Ivanka Trump's bit of puffery in the Journal. So props to the Times. But seriously: stretched the truth? As Trump knows perfectly well, Hillary Clinton has been pressing for better child-care and family leave policies for decades, and her current proposal has been on her website for months. It's far more extensive, more generous, and better thought out than Trump's.

      This is why Trump feels like he can simply say anything he wants, no matter how ridiculous. The obvious way to describe Trump's statement is to call it a lie. That's what it is. Instead, it either goes unmentioned or, at best, gets tiptoed around inaccurately. In what way, after all, did Trump "stretch the truth"? That implies there's some kernel of truth to what Trump said, but he exaggerated it. But that's not what he did. He just lied.

    2. OT: Samatha Bee seems to have the same problem on "deplorable" as Bob. Can't help noting that it was a bad move, can't help agonizing that it's true.

    3. Clinton's handing of her pneumonia really does feed into the narrative of her as secretive and only grudgingly honest. This narrative may or may not be fair, but it's there—and Clinton knows it perfectly well. This is what makes it so frustrating for her supporters that she scored such an own goal over this. If she had announced the pneumonia diagnosis on Friday, the universal response would have been sympathy. It's rotten luck to pick up a bug like this in the middle of a campaign. Instead, she's opened herself up to yet another round of criticism.

    4. It feeds into no such narrative. She handled her illness with the same candor as any previous candidate. If she had announced on Friday, the universal response would have been to examine whether the health conspiracy theories were true and to clamor about what else she is hiding.

      Trump was sick a few months ago and retreated to Mar Lago. No one said anything about it and he hasn't disclosed anything about his health. As noted previously, Kerry was sick and said nothing whatsoever about it. This is routine being blown up into a storm because it is Hillary Clinton.

    5. I am sorry. I failed to attribue my comment at 1:11 correctly. It was a direct quote from my Uncle Drum.

    6. Like you, Drum is naive to believe Friday disclosure would engender "universal" sympathy.

  2. NAEP
    Nation | Reading
    achievement level

    About one third of fourth- and eighth-grade students in 2015 perform at or above the Proficient level in reading.
    1/3 ??!!

    Does this statistic not legitimize concern about public education in the United States?

    1. Shut up and eat your fourth grade math cherries. Bob and Rothstein picked them just for you.

    2. Loyal Reader & 8th grader - that whooshing sound is the point sailing by you:


      "Our national pooled analysis reveals, on the whole, a slightly negative picture of average charter 
      school performance nationwide. On average, charter school students can expect to see their 
      academic growth be somewhat lower than their traditional public school peers, though the 
      absolute differences are small. Charter students trail the academic growth of TPS students by .01 
      standard deviations in reading, and by .03 standard deviations in math. Though small, these 
      effects are statistically significant. These findings hold for students across the board of initial 
      starting scores, except for students in the lowest and highest starting deciles in reading.  
      There is some good news as well. Nationally, elementary and middle school charter students 
      exhibited higher learning gains than equivalent students in the traditional public school system. 
      In  addition,  some  subgroups  demonstrated  greater  academic  growth  than  their  TPS  twins. 
      Specifically, students in poverty and ELL students experience larger learning gains in charter 
      schools.  Other subgroups, however, including Black and Hispanic students as a whole, have 
      learning gains that are significantly smaller than those of their TPS twins. "

  3. "Truly spectacular gains" shows our students are doing "astonishlingly excellent" on tests.

    Just like Donald J. Trump. According to his Doctor.

    I state this unequivocally.


    1. Except these gains are measured in test scores whereas Trump never supplies any data whatsoever (except for his lies).

    2. Correction. Gain should be singular. It is on one test, in one subject, at one grade level.

      Are there other tests of different grade levels in different subjects?

      Does Bob Somerby mention them?

    3. You ask if there are other tests etc., but you must know the answer to that question if you are accusing Somerby of highlighting the only existing gain.

      This sounds like another wild goose chase to me. If there are no other gains, please post the scores for those other tests so that we can see your evidence that Somerby has been cherry-picking. If you are too busy to do that, then STFU.

    4. "If you are too busy to do that, then STFU."

      Somerby posted the link to the NAEP database.

      If you are too lazy to look, then you are a basket of deplorably stupid.

    5. You made the accusation, you back it up.

  4. Glad to see someone who recognizes improvements in average black results. I think it's important to go beyond a single broad average. Inner city residents (black or any other color) are often at a huge disadvantage educationally. For this group of people, I think it's important to have a choice of schools. That way there's an alternative for the kid who isn't being well-served by his or her public school.

    I feel strongly about this, because of my personal experience. My wife and I are big believers. Nevertheless, we moved one daughter to a private school for 2 years when her public school wasn't working for her. We had that choice because we could afford private school tuition. Poor parents should also have that choice.

    P.S. I also think healthy competition will force public schools to do better.

    1. Competition is a poor way of achieving anything. Mostly it leads to rampant cheating.

      David you apparently are an uninvolved parent. Parents are provided with many resources by public schools to help when their children are struggling; however, parents do have to be involved to take advantage of them. Right there in your California you have the Williams Act as just one example.

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