MISSISSIPPI'S KIDS: Relentless score gains over the years!

FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 2023

Matched by relentless indifference: Yesterday, in an interlude, we invited you to return to the days of Jonathan Kozol's first book.

That took us back to the mid-1960s. It took us back to the fateful year when Kozol taught fourth grade in a crumbling "inner city" public school in his native Boston.

Just for today, let's detour away from Mississippi's deserving present-day kids. Let's talk about the state of play, nationwide, during those long-ago years.

As scored by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), tremendous progress has been recorded since those very bad, very segregated years. That said, you've never read about those relentless score gains in the New York Times. 

Does anyone at the Times even care?

The Naep wasn't yet in existence during that first Kozol year. It came into existence in the early 1970s, starting with the series of tests which are now referred to, by the Naep, as The Long-Term Trend Assessment.

As we explained last Friday, The Long-Term Trend Assessment now operates as a companion, or as a supplement, to the so-called Main Naep. From its start in the early 1970s, this original testing program tested 9-year-old students, 13-year-old students, and 17-year-old students, regardless of what grade they were in, in both reading and math.

In short, the Naep now runs two separate assessments. In effect, they operate as checks on each other.

The Long-Term Trend Assessment began in the early 1970s—and it continues today. Its voluminous data seem to record tremendous academic progress by various groups of American kids over the past fifty years.

(For all Long-Term Trend Assessment data, start here.)

How much academic progress have black kids shown on the Long-Term Trend Assessment? Below, you see some scores which date all the way back to the earliest years of that program.

Good lord! Over the course of forty-plus years, the score gains seem very large:

Average scores, 9-year-old black kids
Reading, Long-Term Trend Assessment
1975: 181.21
1980: 189.35
1984: 185.73 
2008: 203.72
2012: 206.48
2020: 204.80

On its face, that's a record of enormous progress, extending into even the first Covid year. According to a very rough but conventional rule of thumb, 9-year-old black kids were outscoring their peers from the early 1980s by something like two academic years when they took this test in 2012, then again in 2020.

On its face, that was a record of enormous progress on the part of the nation's black kids. The New York Times has never told its readers about this apparent progress. Simply put, score gains on the Naep almost never get discussed.

In 2022's Long-Term Trend Assessment, the average score by 9-year-old black kids in reading fell by roughly six points, to 198.77. Presumably, that was the academic cost of the Covid dislocations.

Even with that, black 9-year-olds were vastly outscoring their peers from the early Kozol years. Completing the picture, here are some average scores from the Long-Term Trend Assessment's corresponding math test:

Average scores, 9-year-old black kids
Math, Long-Term Trend Assessment
1978: 192.37
1982: 194.94
1986: 201.58 
2008: 224.13
2012: 226.27
2020: 225.20
2022: 211.81

In math, the score gains were even larger. According to that very rough rule of thumb, the gain here, over forty years, resembled three academic years! 

(On this test, the loss to Covid was huge.)

For the record, statistical rules of thumb tend to break down when we reach the fringes of their applicability. There is no way to offer a precise measure of the academic gains black kids were recording over the course of those years.

That said:

On their face, the score gains here were enormous. So was the silence from organs like the New York Times and the Washington Post, where clueless pundits kept telling their readers that nothing had worked in the public schools thanks to the laziness of our public school teachers with their infernal unions.

Black kids' scores went up and up. In thrall to certain conservative notions of "education reform"—some of which we ourselves would support—mainstream journalists just keep insisting that nothing had worked in our schools.

We'll offer our normal assessment of this bizarre journalistic behavior. Simply put, our press elites don't care about any part of this, and they never have.

Unless something is grossly wrong with the Naep, Kozol taught in the Boston schools at a much more difficult time. The same could be said of our own situation when we met our initial fifth grade class, in the Baltimore City Schools in the autumn of 1969.

In that year, and in those which followed, we taught a whole bunch of good, decent kids. That said, at least as measured by the Naep, academic achievement in the public schools was much lower back then.

To what extent should you trust the numbers which have emerged from the Long-Term Trend Assessment? Also, how might we best describe the degree of academic improvement which seems to be reflected in those vastly higher math and reading scores?

In a nation which actually cared about matters like this, such questions would be carefully explored by major papers of record. Nothing like that ever happened as test scores by our nation's black kids soared.

(Starting with its inception in 1990, similar score gains were recorded, and were ignored, on what is now called the Main Naep.)

For the record, Naep scores went up for all major demographic groups. To this day, our mainstream journalists, and our constantly slumbering "education experts," have barely said a word.

With yesterday's news, we see it again. We see the big picture in this:

Except for the handful of kids who might get accepted to Harvard or Yale, mainstream elites—in the press corps and in the academy—don't seem to care a whole lot about this nation's black kids. 

They lavish attention on the top one or two percent, the ones who might get into Harvard. By and large, the others get disappeared. 

We're showing you how the numbers have changed since roughly the days of Kozol-in-Boston. No one has ever told you such things. Those score gains have been disappeared.

Today, our elites are worrying, as they like to do, about the handful of black kids who might go to Harvard. The rest of the time, they perform their moral greatness by pretending to care about the relative handful of black kids who might get into the nation's top academic high schools.

Other than that, our elites don't seem to care about black kids, and they never have.

We regard Kozol as a secular saint. We don't always agree with his views, but we love his sensibility.

We regard those undiscussed Naep score gains as an anthropology lesson. The lack of interest in those scores helps us see who we actually are. 

In our reports, we'll soon be returning to Mississippi's good, decent present-day kids. The data we have shown you today came from all over the nation.

Scores on the Naep just kept going up. Few people have ever heard.

For the record, yes: For the record, yes. You'll find roughly the same degree of score gains if you look at Grade 4 results from the so-called Main Naep.

(For all Main Naep data, start here.)

Those "Main Naep" score gains never got discussed either! Just as a simple matter of fact, no one cares about any of this, and there is very little sign that anyone ever will.


  1. For better or for worse, discussion of genetic differences is forbidden. Yet it's clear that siblings differ genetically. E.g., my cousin R has two daughters. One is very bright. She works as a big time consultant. The other works in an shop, when she can get a job.

    Once we acknowledge the huge variability in genetics between individuals, wouldn't it be surprising if the averages over various ethnic groups were all identical?

    1. How do you know they weren’t treated differently from birth? Maybe one has fetal alcohol syndrome (not a genetic disorder). There is no identified gene for intelligence, which is why people don’t discuss it. Too many other explanations for varability. It makes you sound like a moron to say people are born smart or otherwise.

    2. 4:29 I wanted to respectfully ask you if you could please keep the tone respectful in comments. What you have to say is very important. I think we will all get a lot further and it will be a lot more productive if we keep a respectful tone. Of course as always do whatever you want. 🏆

    3. NAEP scores rose each year. So each year's kids were genetically different from the previous year's kids.

      Maybe because David was having affairs with Black ladies.

    4. @4:29 Could you have been as smart as Einstein if you had only worked harder or had a different education? I doubt it Wouldn't you agree that Einstein had genetically superior intelligence?

    5. I was as smart in my own field, and I worked hard too. Becoming famous or making a breakthrough also depends on a confluence between environmental demands and a person’s abilities (right time & place). I have read that Einstein may have been on the spectrum, read late, was not good in school and was bad at human relations. He had interests that resulted in highly specific success in physics but what else? I have a very high IQ and interests that have motivated me differently. Einstein couldn’t do what I did in my career, and vice versa, but having no interest in physics, I waste no time thinking about it. Einstein had an isolated early childhood with large blocs of time spent fantasizing. Why might that not have been as formative as genetics? He didn’t come from a long line of physicists, or even thinkers. Neither did I. My father was illiterate and worked with his hands.

    6. Avg IQ (Stanford Binet) of doctors & lawyers is 120, for physicists, 135. Mensa starts at 130. Highly gifted is 165+. Sheldon Cooper would be 180 (but they portray him as autistic too). Regular IQ tests don’t have a high enough ceiling to measure high ranges accurately. For very smart people, having a high IQ doesn’t necessarily translate to Einsteinian accomplishments. It also creates communication problems and social problems. See the Terman Study.

    7. D & C, I don't think it gets us anywhere to bring up 'genetics.' The environment has a lot to do with it. We're all people. There are smart and not so samrt people of all races. You start getting into bad history when you suggest that people are genetically inferior based on their race. It's dumb.

    8. People who think they are smart and try to use reasoning (common sense) in place of knowledge make some big mistakes because they reason from the wrong facts and premises and draw empirically wrong conclusions.

    9. AC/MA David’s name is David in Cal, not D&C, which is a medical procedure frequently used by abortionists. David has done nothing to deserve the way you have mangled his nym.

    10. @6:37 - I found your comment most interesting. Are you the same person as @4:29?

      Could you please choose a user name, so we could follow your lines of reasoning?

    11. To heck with user names.

    12. One of Einstein’s sons was an engineering professor. The other lived and died in an insane asylum.

    13. AC/MA -- You have a valid point. Finding a race or any other group be inherently superior leads in the direction of Hitler.

      I agree that environment has a lot to do with intelligence. The biggest piece of environment is culture IMO. Askenazi Jews have a high average IQ. IMO a big part of the reason is Jewish culture. I was raised to place a high importance on education and intelligence.

      As "The Bell Curve" points out, the cultural impact is particularly big for blacks, given their history of slavery, discrimination and Jim Crow. To me, this suggests working to somehow change black culture to be more focused on education.

    14. You can take The Bell Curve and stick it where the sun don't shine.

    15. Carl Tucker's son exemplifies many of today's liberals. They are told to hate something or someone and they respond by hating. They don't need a valid reason.

      The hate object might be a book that defends blacks against the accusation that they have genetically lower intelligence. The hate object might be Justice Thomas, who rose from poverty to become an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. It might be Ted Cruz, who is disliked for being disliked.

      It's just sad.

    16. There are valid criticisms of The Bell Curve, Justice Thomas and Ted Cruz. It isn’t fair to assume people are not reacting negatively for those reasons.

      Cruz is issuing three podcast episodes per week. When does he do his senate job? Thomas doesn’t belong on the court. He needs to find out how chummy his billionaire friends are when he can’t do them favors. Murray’s part of the book is bad. It was written after Herrnstein’s death.

    17. 9:02 the issues isn't valid criticisms though, is it?

    18. The point is that most on the left do know who these people are and have good reason to dislike them. The idea that they are blindly hating is silly.

    19. No - the point is that they are hating.

    20. Joy is not the only permitted emotion.

    21. At least the liberal haters are equal opportunity haters. They hate Jews like Netanyahu, blacks like Clarence Thomas, and Hispanics like Ted Cruz.

    22. Valid reasons for hating Clarence Thomas: As a pornography attack, he thru a woman under the bus who had dared to bring up his strange behavior at work ( his clumsy passes at her may or not have been disqualifying), lying under oath to his God when asked about it. He further thru his people under the bus by claiming he had been the victim of a “high tech lynching,” exploiting the legacy of suffering his people endured in the US to serve his momentary ambition. Once on the Court, he went back to facilitating said abuse of his people. Living in a mad house with his insane, hateful wife, he could be counted on to serve the powerful interests he took obscene bribes from.
      You are one degenerate a hole David. You want me to do the other two?

    23. I guess you misread his original comment.

    24. David, the hate is aimed at these individuals for their own actions, not toward demographic groups such as hispanics or jews because of their membershiip in such groups.

  2. Even NYTimes readers are insufficiently educated to wade into the weeds by analyzing NAEP scores. Even Somerby gets things wrong when he tries it — with his Harvard degree in philosophy. How did that ever qualify him to teach middle school math? That might have been part of the problem for black kids back in the day. I’ve heard that many schools now require credentials to teach and math teachers have to pass a test themselves. Only one of the changes in the past 40 years.

  3. Most adults care most about what happens to their own kids. That’s why they routinely say the schools overall are bad but their own local schools are good. They are happy with the results close to home. Why should someone invest effort in NAEP details that have no consequences for them?

    Democrats want to improve schools. Republicans don’t want to spend money on other people’s kids. The govt has tried to trick or scare people into funding schools by talking about losing a space race or math gap with Russia, or a national disgrace, but the main people who don’t care are on the right, not the left. Somerby knows that and yet he writes crap like this.

  4. You don’t need more than a freshman level class in psychology to know Bob’s purpose here, with his redundant hectoring, is to DARE you to care about the kids. Let’s note this is now surely Bob’s all time champion, triple crown winning beaten to death horse.

    1. anon 6:39, I don't know about freshman psychology, but I tend to agree about him beating a dead horse.

  5. Is it the same test or are the questions changed as kids get older? Is the test changed over time? How do the testers know revised tests are equivalent?

  6. Today I was offered RFK Jr's book about Anthony Fauci as a Kindle book recommendation. How did political disinformation manage to masquerade as consumerism and who thought this particular book belonged on a list of Colleen Hoover bestsellers? This is wrong.

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