Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Latest NAEP Results and No Child Left Behind

The results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the “nation’s report card,” were released yesterday. The NAEP report indicates that here have been modest gains in reading achievement for 4th and 8th graders since 1992 when the NAEP was first administered. These gains generally hold for all groups – Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics and males and females. But the data also reveal the persistence of the so-called “achievement gap” between White students and Black and Hispanic students. For example, although the gap in reading achievement between White and Black students has narrowed slightly since 1992, the average reading scores for Black students in 8th grade still lag 27 points behind their White classmates, down from a 30 point gap in 1992. The difference between White and Hispanic in 8th grade is now 25 points, down from 26 points in 1992.

The primary goal of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was to eliminate the achievement gap, particularly in reading, by focusing on children too often “left behind.” The report of the National Reading Panel, Reading First grants, and the establishment of the What Works Clearinghouse were all intended to help achieve this worthy goal. Following the release of the NAEP report yesterday, President Bush called the results “outstanding,” adding that the NAEP scores confirm that No Child Left Behind is working” (New York Times, “Scores Show Mixed Results for Bush Education Law,” September 25, 2007).

My reading of the NAEP report is less optimistic. At the current rate of improvement since 1992, it will take another 135 years for the average performance of Black students to pull even with White students. Using the same logic, it will take 375 years for the average performance of Hispanic students to catch up to their White classmates. A cynic might conclude that NCLB is working to maintain existing educational inequities.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

It's a bit early to start attributing NAEP score changes to Reading First. That's certainly not the same thing as saying that Reading First isn't working, however.

The new professional development, reading coaches, and materials didn't begin taking effect until the 2003-2004 school year. That year's kindergarten students haven't even reached 4th grade to take the NAEP test, much less 8th grade.

The Reading First students who have taken the 4th grade NAEP test have only seen one or two years of the program, and certainly, teacher effectiveness in those first years wouldn't have been a strong as once efforts were fully under way.

Then, there's the question of numbers. I don't know the exact percentage, but I'm guessing that fewer than 10% of students attend Reading First Schools. A 2 point NAEP gain is about 1%, but if that's attributable to only 10% of the students, then the increase is more like 10%, which is promising so early in the program.