While most states showed little change in their scores on the “nation’s report card,” Indiana showed a slight increase in scores for eighth-grade reading in this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress data.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests a representative sample of students in every state in the U.S. It is the only national exam that tests all states with the same standards for reading and mathematics, and is often called the “nation’s report card,” used by federal and state leaders to track students’ overall performance and the effects of education policies.
The test is given every two years, and there is no breakdown by schools or school districts; it only offers statewide data.
In Indiana, the average score for fourth-grade students on the mathematics exam was 247 on a 500-point scale, a one-point difference from the 2015 score of 248. The NAEP does not consider that a statistically significant change in performance, though it is higher than the national average of 239 for fourth-graders nationwide.
The reading scores for fourth-grade students were similar: not statistically different from the 2015 scores, but higher than the national average by a few points.
Scores for Indiana’s eighth-graders told a slightly different story. While math scores remained similar to those in 2015, reading scores saw a slight bump from 268 in 2015 to 272 in 2017. Indiana is one of only 10 states that showed a higher reading score than the previous test.
For Lucille Davy, that slight rise is encouraging. But looking at only two years from the test’s history isn’t particularly useful, said the former commissioner of education for New Jersey and peer reviewer for states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans.
“It can give you misleading information, and it can’t give you a full picture,” she said. For instance, while the past two years of Indiana’s math scores look stagnant, the scores made a significant first jump from 270 in 1990, the first year of testing, to 281 in 2000.
“Within 10 years, they raised it 11 points. That’s really good,” she said. “You look at the bigger picture, Indiana has clearly done some things that have made a big difference for kids in math.”
Indiana University math education professor Sarah Lubienski was not surprised by the seeming stagnation of math scores, both in Indiana and nationally. The initial standards put in place for fourth-graders in the 1990s were ambitious for the time, and eventually schools were going to catch up to them, she said.
“The increase in NAEP scores, they all make sense,” she said. “It also makes sense that it’s going to plateau at some point, and we’re going to reach some saturation.”
It’s possible that the stagnation might indicate that it’s time to update NAEP’s math standards to match what students are actually learning in school, she said.
Davy had a similar opinion. Around 2006, many states changed their math standards to focus less on breadth over several different mathematical subjects and more on in-depth standards in a few specific subjects, she said. NAEP still tests some of the subjects that schools have pushed to later grades, and it may be necessary to tweak the tests accordingly.
Nevertheless, the data show states have plenty of work to do to strengthen their education programs, she said.
“Nobody should be complacent about any of these results, and everyone should be focused on the fact that we’re not doing as well as we should be,” Davy said.