Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Has Student Achievement Improved?

Yesterday the Center for Education Policy released a report entitled Has Student Achievement Improved Since 2002? State Test Score Trends Through 2006–07. Here are the main conclusions drawn by the authors of the study.
  • Since 2002, reading and math achievement on state tests has gone up in most states according to the percentages of students scoring at the proficient level. Gains tended to be larger at the elementary and middle school grades than at the high school level. Achievement has also risen in most states according to effect sizes. These findings are drawn from states with at least three years of comparable test data.
  • Trends in reading and math achievement on NAEP have generally moved in the same positive direction as trends on state tests, although gains on NAEP tended to be smaller than those on state tests. The exception to the broad trend of rising scores on both assessments occurred in grade 8 reading, where fewer states showed gains on NAEP than on state tests, especially in terms of effect sizes.
  • In states with sufficient data to determine achievement gap trends on state tests, gaps have narrowed more often than they have widened since 2002, particularly for African American students and low-income students. Gap trends were also largely positive for Latino students, but this finding is less conclusive because in many states the Latino subgroup has changed significantly in size in recent years. On the whole, percentages proficient and effect sizes revealed similar trends of narrowing or widening, although percentages proficient gave a more positive picture of achievement gap trends than effect sizes.
  • Gaps on NAEP have also narrowed more often than they have widened in states with sufficient data to determine gap trends. The exception was in grade 8 math, where gaps on NAEP widened more often than they narrowed for most subgroups. In general, NAEP results painted a less positive picture of progress in narrowing gaps than state tests did.
  • It is impossible to determine the extent to which these trends in test results have occurred because of NCLB. Since 2002,many different but interconnected policies and programs have been undertaken to raise achievement—some initiated by states or school districts and others implemented in response to federal requirements. Moreover, all public school students have been affected by NCLB, so there is no suitable comparison group of students to show what would have happened without NCLB.
The report raises some interesting questions. Is the law behind the rise in scores? The authors say it is impossible to determine whether NCLB alone has produced these changes in students learning. However, it's hard not be cynical and state the obvious. If you spend 6 years (or more) preparing kids to pass "the test," shouldn't their scores be higher? What I really want to know is whether or not they're really learning more.

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