THE UNDISCUSSED: Have Alabama's test scores soared?


Let's take a look at the data: Have Alabama's test scores soared? The headline on last week's AP report seemed to say that they have.

Also, a miracle had been spotted in Mississippi! As we noted yesterday, the AP headline said this:

‘Mississippi miracle’: Kids’ reading scores have soared in Deep South states

As we noted yesterday, the three Deep South states to which the headline refers were Mississippi and Alabama, along with Louisiana. The report refers to test scores recorded on last year's National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), in Grade 4 reading alone.

(The "Main Naep" tests reading and math in Grades 4. 8 and 12.)

That said, have Grade 4 reading scores in these three states really soared? Below, you see some average scores in Grade 4 reading over the past eleven years:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2011:
U.S. public schools: 220.03
Mississippi: 209.19
Alabama: 220.27
Louisiana: 210.41
Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2013:
U.S. public schools: 220.67
Mississippi: 208.52
Alabama: 218.58
Louisiana: 210.45


Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2022:
U.S. public schools:  216.11
Mississippi: 217.16
Alabama: 213.30
Louisiana: 212.34

Oof! Over the course of the past decade, Alabama's Grade 4 average has actually dropped, by roughly seven points—by about two-thirds of one academic year. 

Over the course of that same period, Louisiana's Grade 4 average has risen, but by slightly less than two points—by less than a quarter of a year. 

As we noted yesterday, the Grade 4 scores in those two states trailed the national average last year, though the post-pandemic drop in the national average brought them closer to the national norm.

That said, have Grade 4 reading scores in these two states actually "soared?" It's hard to think of a reason for saying that. In Alabama, the average score has declined over the past dozen years!

By way of contrast, the Grade 4 score in Mississippi's schools has shown a substantial increase. Judged by a very rough but widely used rule of thumb, Mississippi's average score was almost one year higher last year than it had been in those earlier years—and the state had (very slightly) surpassed the national average.

Assuming everything is as it seems, Mississippi has shown a strong score gain, but would you want to call that a "miracle?" Based upon the rocky history of such claims, we'd advise a strong measure of caution.

Alas! American journalists have always been strongly inclined to run with "miraculous test score" stories. Such claims have often turned out to be fraudulent, but none of this stops our national journalists from a rush to embrace the next "heartening" report of a miraculous rise in allegedly "soaring" test scores.

In this case, it's hard to say that Grade 4 reading scores have "soared" in Alabama and Louisiana, but scores have risen in Mississippi. Assuming that everything is as it seems, serious people should want to know the source of this apparent progress.

That said, is everything as it seems in this particular case? Time and again, it has turned out that everything isn't as it seems when reports of miraculous score gains have briefly warmed journalists' hearts. 

Last Thursday, the Morning Joe gang devoted roughly 90 seconds to this heartening story. Going beyond what the AP report claimed, Joe Scarborough even claimed that an "Alabama miracle" had occurred.

In the course of that Morning Joe miracle, Alabama's fourth graders had actually lost two points off their average reading score! Historically, people like Scarborough have been eager to exult, and then they quickly move on.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but the coverage of this topic has routinely been clownishly incompetent. For today, we're forced to restrict ourselves to this truncated report. Beyond that, we don't expect to be able to post at all tomorrow.

When we return to this topic, we'll show you more about the rise in average scores in Mississippi. Because we've learned that we must never take such heartening reports at face value, we'll also show you something we would have examined with a great deal more care before we published a report like the one the AP published.

Have Alabama's test scores soared? That seems like a very strange claim.

That said, hyperbole has long been in the saddle when it comes to reports of this type. Such claims have often crashed and burned.

Our question: Does anyone care?

As always: For all Naep data, start here.


  1. "Going beyond what the AP report claimed, Joe Scarborough even claimed that an "Alabama miracle" had occurred."

    No, he didn't say that. He said what the article said, which is that Mississippi had a miracle over a decade of improvement and both Mississippi and Alabama are not last in the nation and he was happy about that, unlike Somerby. He said "I'll give Alabama credit..." but the miracle was Mississippi because of its large gains.

    Somerby wants to quibble over what "soaring" means and what "miracle" means, but he ignores the real change in Mississippi and the FACT that Alabama and Louisiana held onto their reading scores despite a pandemic that lowered the national average and resulted in decreases in all but 3 states (according to the AP article). But Somerby ignores the progress and instead zeroes in on some adjectives he doesn't like. The horror!

  2. "Have Alabama's test scores soared? That seems like a very strange claim."

    No one actually made that claim. Not the AP report, which said this only about Mississippi. Not Scarborough, who said it only about Mississippi. Just Somerby, because it is easier to refute something no one actually said, than it is to acknowledge that Mississippi actually has made progress.

    What kind of asshole goes out of his way to knock progress made by kids in a Southern state that used to be 49th in the nation and is now 21st?

    1. Somerby couldn't possibly be a Right-winger. Right-wingers hate children.
      Oops, I'll come in again...

    2. Right wingers hate non binary children and children that are people of color. They may have emotions for their own children, but that doesn’t stop them from abusing and traumatizing their children, generally as part of a continuum of generational abuse.

  3. The second amendment is evil.

  4. Somerby often notes that the blue tribe is unaware of certain truths the red tribe hears because the blue tribe is underserved by their supposedly preferred media.


    Yesterday Fox News highlighted a new big poll, which shows Trump losing to Biden, but Biden losing to DeSantis.

    So now the red tribe knows that Trump is losing to Biden, which the blue tribe is in the dark about.

    Uh oh, Somerby won’t like this narrative.

  5. Republicans should support statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

  6. Defund the Supreme Court.

    1. Harlan Crow owns the Supreme Court. Defund Harlan Crow.

  7. Harry Litman is God.

    1. The universe pre dates Litman, so without compelling evidence, he’s probably not God, nor noteworthy in general, other than he likely made a poor judgement with regard to Gammage.

    2. Maybe God isn’t as old as the universe.

    3. Harry cannot reveal his true age (he is obviously ageless) as it would result in general panic.

    4. Was it panic that led those cops to kill Gammage back in the 90’s?

      Although, that’d be racial panic, not general panic.

      That train started chugging a long time ago, and it keeps on rolling.

    5. Rolling, rolling on the river.

  8. We live in a barred spiral galaxy.

  9. Karen is innocent.

    1. Didn’t you freely choose to post that comment?

    2. It was the result of my life experiences, so no.

  10. Man I was in a place called Keep Running, Mississippi one time and I heard someone on my way back say: you best not be talking, you better be stroking, cause they don’t allow no stripping down in Far East Mississippi.

  11. Justice for Karen!