SCHOOL LIVES [DON'T] MATTER: The latest unimportant scores!


Part 4—From the land of the undiscussed:
Later this month, if patterns hold, the new NAEP scores will be released.

Every two years, the federal government conducts tests in reading and math for students in Grades 4 and 8. This is part of the so-called "Main NAEP," one of the two major programs which comprise the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

(We aren't discussing the Long-Term Trend Assessment, the Main NAEP's companion program, in which 9- and 13-year-old students are tested. We are discussing the so-called Main NEAP, in which fourth- and eighth-graders get tested.)

The NAEP is widely described as "America's report card," the "gold standard" in domestic educational testing. It's the domestic testing program which hasn't been riddled by cheating scandals, though we'd like to see an assessment of at least one potential problem.

(The question we'd like to see examined: Are state superintendents able to skew the statewide samples of students who get tested?)

Two years ago, in late October, results were released for the 2015 NAEP. In the New York Times, Motoko Rich delivered some unwqelcome news:
RICH (10/28/15): For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by the Education Department on Wednesday.

The decline appeared in both Grades 4 and 8 in an exam administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and sometimes called ''the nation's report card.''


Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools.

''It's obviously bad news,'' said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. ''We don't want to see scores going in this direction.''

''That doesn't mean we should completely freak out,'' he added. ''This could be a one-time variation, and maybe we'll see things come back next time. But if it were the beginning of a new trend, it would be quite disappointing and disturbing.''
Based upon Rich's opening sentence, Times readers may have gotten the impression that math scores had previously dropped in 1990.

In fact, 1990 was the year when the "Main NAEP" testing program began. Over the course of its twenty-five years, math scores had steadily risen on the federal testing program—until 2015, when relatively small drops in average scores were observed.

Confusion in Rich's education reporting was certainly nothing new. Later in this same report, she would make a puzzling claim, apparently based upon her failure to "disaggregate" the test scores—her failure to examine the scores for different demographic groups.

Ever since being assigned to the education beat, Rich—a Yale Phi Beta Kappa graduate—had bungled her education reporting in memorable ways. We'd say there's an obvious reason for this:

No one actually cares! Atop our journalistic elites, no one believes that school lives matter—except to the extent that reporting on public schools can be used to serve the interests of certain "reform"-minded corporations and certain billionaire elites.

No one thinks that school lives matter? All in all, we don't know how else to explain the state of the nation's education reporting over the past many years. Those NAEP scores from 2015 are a case in point:

By all accounts, those scores represent our most reliable measure of the academic skills of our public school students. And yet, almost two years later, you haven't heard the first freaking word about those disappointing scores!

You've never heard that scores declined in 2015. You've never heard that scores declined for the first time in the history of the Main NAEP program. You've never seen a single person try to explain why that may have happened.

You watch our liberal TV shows every night; you've never heard a single word concerning any such topic. Then too, you also haven't heard a peep about the stabbing death of Matthew McCree last week, or about the remarkable reporting in the New York Tines about conditions inside New York City schools.

You haven't heard a single word about any of this. Fairly obviously, that's because Rachel and Lawrence and Chris and Chris don't think that school lives matter.

Matthew McCree, age 15, didn't get killed the right way last week. Over Here in our failing tribe, we only discuss the killings of kids when they can be made to fit certain tribally pleasing patterns.

Beyond that, reading and math scores are tedious, eye-glazing, boring. Your favorite "corporate liberal" elites don't ask you to ponder such things.

Breaking! Your lizard brain is going to tell you that these unpleasant suggestions are false. In our view, we all need to learn how to get your lizards under control.

At any rate, you've never heard a single word about those 2015 NAEP scores. You're also unlikely to hear a single word when this year's scores get released.

That's because no one cares about any of this; within our journalistic and cultural elites, school lives don't actually matter. Judged on any rational basis, few things could be more clear.

Having said that, to what extent did NAEP scores decline in 2015? Why might this drop have occurred?

As she continued, Rich offered some thoughts about the latter question. She also seemed to make one of her trademark puzzling technical gaffes:
RICH (continuing directly): Education officials said that the first-time decline in math scores was unexpected, but that it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade's guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.

The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America's schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers.


About a quarter of public school students are Hispanic, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1990. As a group, the scores of Hispanic students trail those of white students; this year, for example, 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at a level deemed proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.

The proportion of African-American students in public schools has remained fairly stable, but an achievement gap with white students remains. On the fourth-grade reading tests this year, just 18 percent of black students were deemed proficient.
Did the drop in math scores occur because of the switch to the Common Core? We have no idea. Everything is possible!

That said, Rich seemed to commit her latest puzzling technical bungle when she said the declining scores "could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America's schools." We say that because the average scores of all demographic groups dropped in 2015, not just those of black and Hispanic kids.

Consider Grade 8 math. By how much did average math scores drop in 2015, as compared to where they stood in 2013?

You see the basic data below. According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to correspond to one academic year:
Declines in average scores from 2013
Grade 8 math, public schools, 2015 NAEP

All students: 2.34 points

Black students: 2.88 points
White students: 2.13 points
Hispanic students: 1.55 points
Asian-American students: 0.55 points
For all NAEP data, just click here. From there, you're on your own.

Those aren't gigantic drops, but they represent the first such declines in average scores in the Main NAEP's 25-year history.

That said, it's hard to know why Rich seemed to suggest that the overall decline may have been caused by black and Hispanic students. That said, technical bungles were the reliable norm during Rich's tenure as a Times education reporter.

Inevitably, an explanation suggests itself: The New York Times doesn't care about public schools, or about the kids who attend them.

We've reported on this technical bungling, at the Times and everywhere else, for way too many years now. At some point, a sensible person comes to see that he's wasting his time in such endeavors, which fly in the face of massive resistance on a very large scale.

Average scores have risen, a lot, in the years since the NAEP began in the early 1970s. Average scores have risen, a lot, in the years since the Main NAEP began in 1990.

What hasn't changed in the massive indifference to such topics within our major news organizations. What hasn't changed is the massive indifference to the school lives of low-income kids among our favorite TV stars, including such well-known stars as Chris, Chris, Lawrence and Rachel.

If past patterns hold, the new NAEP scores will be released later this month. We won't heard a word about this from our favorite liberal stars.

We also haven't heard a word about the death of Matthew McCree. He was 15 years old, and black, but he didn't get killed in a tribally useful way. For this reason, your liberal elites have sent you a message:

His life in his New York school didn't matter. He never called Donald Trump a moron, so our top TV stars don't care.

You've also never heard this: As usual, let's waste our time today. Let's record the gains in average scores on Grade 8 math since 1996, the earliest year which affords clean statistical comparisons on the Main NAEP.

Average scores have risen a lot since 1996! You've never heard a word about that on your favorite TV shows, where school lives plainly don't matter, and neither do low-income kids:
Gains in average scores, 1996-2015
Grade 8 math, public schools, NAEP:

All students: 12.48 points

Black students: 20.57 points
White students: 11.56 points
Hispanic students: 20.29 points
Asian-American students: 17.91 points (since 2000)
On their face, those are large score gains, especially by black and Hispanic kids. (As of 2013, the gains were even larger.) But even as public school teachers get assailed for their haplessness and for their ratty unions, you've never heard these score gains discussed on your favorite TV shows.

Admit it—not even once! On our favorite TV shows, our public schools, their teachers and kids, are totally disappeared.

Our stars don't care about Matthew McCree, age 15, who didn't get killed in the right way. To our biggest TV stars, the school lives of our low-income kids very much don't matter.


  1. I don't know if ad hominem hurts or helps, but it is certainly the order of the day here, and, with more sadness than rancor, it is impossible to escape the fact Bob Somerby is an idiot. 

    If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. And really, neither does Bob Somerby. He has some strange score to settle with evil wise guy liberals, and those who check back in from time to time to see this car accident get nothing but this kind of garbage. And YES, yes, soon enough we will look away for good. I promise.

  2. At one time, to be a liberal, you had to care about the underclass. You had to sincerely want to help them. You were concerned about the effectiveness of various programs.

    Today, in order to be a liberal, all you have to do is despise Donald Trump and his supporters.

    1. They actually don't mind the underclass, they use it.

      What they really hate is the working class. The working class threatens their (incredibly stupid) idea of global capitalism managed by 'experts' (by them, that is).

    2. Hmm. If you're so smart, where are YOUR casinos, YOUR hotels, YOUR golf cources, YOUR trophy wives, YOUR university, YOUR tv show, and why aren't YOU the president?

    3. That's an argumentum ad crumenam. I know you like the guy. That's cool dude.

    4. Bankrupt, Bankrupt, Bankrupt, by my side, in litigation due to fraud, fuck television, I'm not a bigot.

      Anything else, m'lady.

    5. "Today, in order to be a liberal, all you have to do is despise Donald Trump and his supporters."

      Great we are a far left country, now let's start acting like it.

    6. At one time I remember repubs were patriotic Americans and would recoil at the knowledge that a hostile foreign power had executed an act of war on our country in collusion with a flim flam fraud. Whether you'd be a liberal or conservative, we would all be united in standing together to find out what the fuck they did and pay back in spades.

      Now, they not only nominate the pussygrabber traitor and vote for him, they support him unconditionally as he consistently subverts the investigation, engages in obstruction of justice, attacks all our intelligence agencies as frauds, fires the Director of the FBI leading the investigation and invites his Russian goon buddies into the oval office to have a good old laugh about it. All the while behaving like a horse's ass tweeting "fake news" every time some new piece of his traitorous puzzle is revealed. Fuck you David.

    7. "Bankrupt, Bankrupt, Bankrupt"

      Yes, I bet you are.

    8. They nominate the pussygrabber traitor - and he wins. This should give you a clue as to how repulsive your employer the old psycho-witch is.

    9. #fuckingmoron is trending

    10. Statement 1: "At one time, to be a liberal, you had to care about the underclass. You had to sincerely want to help them. You were concerned about the effectiveness of various programs."
      Statement 2: "What they really hate is the working class."
      Aside from statement 2 being a generalization and a lie, Republicans don't care about the "effectiveness" of any program; they want to have NO programs AT ALL. Secondly, if you think Trump or the Republicans actually care about the working class longer than it takes to get their votes, then I have a spot in Trump U for you. Just wait, folks. The results will speak for themselves, just as they did with George W.

    11. "This should give you a clue as to how repulsive your employer the old psycho-witch is."

      More likely, the actual level of this country's white supremacy fetish.

    12. "Yes, I bet you are."
      Wow, you know you're a troll when all of the sudden you have to make believe you have a problem with bankruptcy.

    13. @2:14 PM writes:

      [QUOTE] Trump's disapproval rating is 55%. The highest in modern history. You don't have to be liberal to despise that moron. The guy is a universal embarrassment. [END QUOTE]

      Or as your basic, smart as a ditto-head Resister would put it, "Going forward, how can we lose?"

      Three days before he won the 2016 presidential election Gallup had Trump's disapproval rating was at 61%. On election day, 2016, Real Clear Politics had the polling average disapproval rating for Trump at 58.5%.

      Citing Gallup, Wikipedia says the highest disapproval number for Truman was 67%, for Nixon it was 66%, and for Bush 43 it was 71%.

      At one point Carter was at 59% disapproval, Reagan at 56%, Bush 41 at 60%, Clinton at 54%, and Obama at 57%. Note that after posting their own personal high disapproval numbers, Reagan and Clinton both went on to win re-election.

      Gallup Nov. 5, 2016
      Real Clear Politics Nov. 8, 2016
      Wikipedia, Disapproval ratings

    14. Damn that electoral college! And the (misinterpreted) Second Amendment.

    15. Mao has a problem with Trump's bankruptcies, too, but Mao is willing to overlook it because Trump appointed an inveterate bigot as his Attorney General.

    16. Yes, I agree, CMike. This country is full of morons. I too don't put much stock in approval ratings and all these other nonsense polls. The only polls that matter are the final tallies on election day, and the level of apathy and stupidity in this country is frightening.

      Just look at 2016 for example. We had a supreme court seat just sitting there on the tree, the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit, just waiting to be plucked, and guess what. A whole bunch of dumb fucks voted for Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson, or even Bernie Sanders if you could believe it.

      Hey, what can you do? We live in a dumb country.

    17. mm,

      No surprise Clinton attracted the people who think like you do.

  3. Studies show that when it comes to people moving from the poor to middle class, there is a much higher correlation between a child's parent(s) being union members than the child's educational advancement.
    Unions level the playing field, that's why plutocrats and their propagandists demonize them.

  4. Hispanic graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down. Somerby should have mentioned that too. He won't be able to use this complaint forever.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. “That said, it's hard to know why Rich seemed to suggest that the overall decline may have been caused by black and Hispanic students.”

      Not puzzling, really, though I suppose that’s the point. Hispanics declined by 1.55 points, whereas white students declined by 2.13 points. Blacks declined by only 0.75 more than whites.

      Meanwhile, average scores have risen a lot, according to Bob, and I tend to take him at his word on this issue, because of his intense parsing of this particular topic.

      My view? The brown people are taking over. Those who control our discourse must make it plain how they’re displacing the white hegemony. As far as I’m concerned, brown people are only regaining their right to live in this land, which we murderously stole from them.

      That’s why Rich wrote “The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America's schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities.”

      The DinC’s will grasp on to that to their last breath.

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