Are Children Learning

Indiana rank continues to rise on the national NAEP test

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Indiana did as good or better than the U.S. average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the “nation’s report card,” this year compared to 2013, while many states saw significant drops.

For 2015, the state was ranked fourth in the nation in fourth-grade math and 11th for eighth-grade math, up from a ranking of fourth and 19th, respectively, in 2013. In reading, Indiana students ranked 10th for fourth-grade reading and 16th for eighth-grade reading, up from 15th and 27th. Back in 2013, the state made huge jumps in scores that some questioned the validity of at the time, said Mark O’Malley, the state’s NAEP coordinator.

“That was a big deal and that made the headlines,” O’Malley said. “As Indiana repeats again the fourth highest math score in fourth grade, it kind of validates the student performance that has happened, so that is exciting. It’s not a phenomenon, it didn’t happen by chance.”


Indiana students scoring at or above proficiency on NAEP math


Indiana students scoring at or above proficiency on NAEP reading

Data source: NAEP and National Center for Education Statistics, Graphics by: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

None of the change in this year’s score have “statistical significance” from 2013, meaning they don’t necessarily indicate student achievement is any lower or higher this year than last time — likely the change is due to chance, O’Malley said.

However he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the state’s more challenging academic standards and big changes to state tests that can cause some chaos in the classroom.

“Indiana held on and plateaued,” O’Malley said. “The state assessment is up and down, and in the classroom it’s just so chaotic and frustrating. The students were able to hold on to their student performance in the NAEP assessment, and all the other states around us, their scores went down dramatically.”

Compared to 2000, Indiana students have measurably improved in fourth-grade math and reading and in eighth-grade math over 15 years. Eighth-grade reading scores aren’t significantly different from 2000.

Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire outranked Indiana in fourth-grade math scores, yet the differences are very small. Indiana English-learners achieved scores 16 points higher than the national average among other students learning English as a new language.

In general, Indiana saw strong performance from English-learners and students with special needs. All states are required by the federal government to take NAEP, which is given to sample of students every other year. About 12,000 students took the test in Indiana, O’Malley said.

In some states, lower scores might be affected by having more students with special needs and English-learners taking the test, but Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said that shouldn’t be considered a problem.

“This is not a problem or a deficit, it’s a huge opportunity to change the lives of young people through educational opportunities,” Duncan said. “We should be proud schools are becoming more diverse, and we should be proud to hold ourselves accountable for the education of all students.”

Nationwide, fourth- and eighth-graders posted slightly lower scores on the math and reading tests than in 2013, the last time the tests were administered.

“We’re trying not to read too much in a decline in at this point,” said Peggy Carr, acting commission of the National Center of Education Statistics, which administers NAEP. “We understand it’s a pattern consistent across many states, but … we don’t know yet if these changes we’re talking about today are long term.”

Scores in both subjects have risen significantly over time, suggesting that the average American student’s skills have improved. Math scores have risen by 27 points out of 500 and reading scores have risen by 10 points since the first time the exams were given, but achievement gaps between black and white students have not narrowed substantially.

U.S. students have taken the NAEP exams for decades in an effort to provide a consistent measure of student performance at a time when states’ standards varied widely.

Now, many states are in the process of adopting new tests that reflect shared standards, potentially allowing for more detailed and frequent comparisons of students across the country. That means for some states, NAEP now serves the dual role of testing student performance across states and assessing whether states have achieved their goal of crafting more “accurate” measures of student achievement with their new exams.

Yet because Indiana abandoned Common Core for state-specific standards in 2014, such comparisons between Indiana’s standards and those in other states aren’t really possible. That makes NAEP even more valuable to educators and policymakers to keep tabs on how students are doing compared to the rest of the country, O’Malley said.

“This is one thing that every state takes in the same format, it’s administered the same,” he said. “It’s the only thing left that … can measure student achievement universally.”

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.