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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

What the drop in NAEP math scores tells us — about Common Core and NAEP

Photo: Valerie Strauss
"The recently released reading and math scores from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress caused some consternation in the education world because they went down for the first time in the history of the NAEP. The exam is often called the nation’s report card because it is the only measure of student achievement given periodically to a sampling of students around the nation." according to Valerie Strauss, Reporter — Washington, D.C and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Here is a piece about what the drop in math scores tell us about the Common Core State Standards, which have been implemented in most states for the past few years, and about the Core’s relationship to the NAEP.

[U.S. student performance on NAEP slips]
[What the national drop in NAEP scores means]

Photo: Sarah Lubienski
It was written by Sarah Lubienski, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Her research focuses on inequities in students’ mathematics outcomes and the policies and practices that shape those outcomes.  She conducts large-scale studies using national data sets, as well as smaller, classroom-based studies.  Lubienski has chaired the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and is a member of its Grants Governing Board.  Her previous NAEP analyses have been funded by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Institute of Education Sciences. She is co-author of The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.

The one- to two-point point drops in math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress announced last week have caused quite a commotion, with various critics blaming school testing, accountability, choice and other policies prominent over the past decade. Departing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other defenders of recent policies have pointed to early implementation issues and demographic/economic shifts as possible reasons for the disappointing scores. The results were described as a “train wreck” by Rick Hess and a “fiasco” by Diane Ravitch, with many critics seeing them as evidence that the education policies of President Obama as well as his predecessor, George W. Bush, have been counterproductive.

If we dig deeper into the data, we can get a clearer sense of recent trends and the likely reasons for them. Although most reports of NAEP mathematics performance focus on overall math scores, NAEP actually tracks subscores for student performance in five strands: Number/Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement and Data Analysis/Probability. In contrast with the “back to basics” era of the 1970s and 80s, which focused on number computation, in 1989 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) promoted the importance of teaching these five strands throughout Pre-K-12th grades.

This was a major shift for schools, and it makes sense that, after the NAEP test became aligned with the new NCTM standards and schools began to align their curricula and assessments with those standards, we would see a steady increase in NAEP scores. And that is, indeed, what happened. Children do learn what we teach them.

Probability and statistics, in particular, was quite new to the school mathematics curriculum, especially in early grades. Probability is critically important for making smart consumer, health, and political decisions and yet adults are notoriously prone to misconceptions about probability. For example, if you flip a coin and gets five heads in a row, you are NOT more likely to get tails on the next flip – the coin does not remember. Hence, developing students’ understanding of probability from an early age seemed like a good idea when NCTM introduced it back in 1989. On the other hand, emphasizing every math strand every year contributes to the “mile wide, inch deep” problem that the Common Core State Standards tries to address.

Source: Washington Post

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