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Only a Third of U.S. 8th Graders Proficient or Above in Math, Reading

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The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments–known as the Nation’s Report Card–show that only a third of the nation’s eighth graders are at or above the proficiency level in math and only 34 percent are at or above the same level in reading.

Data from the biennial tests reveal that U.S. eighth graders are performing worse in math than they were two years ago when they last took the NAEP assessments. Average scale scores for this group fell from 285 in 2013 to 282 in 2015, and the percentage of students at or above the proficiency level fell from 35 percent to 33 percent.

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In reading, 34 percent of eighth graders were at or above proficiency, a decline from 36 percent two years ago. Average scale scores fell from 268 in 2013 to 265 in 2015.

In math, fourth graders dropped from 42 percent at or above proficiency in 2013 to 40 percent in the same range in 2015. Reading percentage scores showed a one-point uptick for this grade level from 35 percent at or above proficiency to 36 percent.

While several individual states showed some improvement, the overall national decline in scores is significant since – for the first time since the early 1990s – math scores of fourth and eighth graders have dropped. Additionally, the 2015 NAEP assessments provide the first look at how students have fared since full implementation of the Common Core standards in the states that adopted them.

Proponents of the Common Core standards were quick to recommend we not read too much into the decline in test scores.

According to Education Week, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan referred to the NAEP decline as an “implementation dip,” and assured that such a dip is fairly common. Duncan observed that Massachusetts saw test scores drop after raising standards two decades ago, but then became a high-ranking state.

“This is the ultimate long-term play,” Duncan said.

“It’s a one-time test…There was a lot going on in this country around testing and transition” when the NAEP was administered earlier this year, said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) – one of the owners of the copyright of the Common Core standards. “We need to make sure we don’t overreact to one data point. We were sure not to do that two years ago when we saw the data uptick.”

“The majority of our schools are undergoing significant changes in how and what we teach our students,” said William J. Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board – which sets NAEP policies.

“It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to see a decline before you see improvement.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten–who also supports the Common Core–said in a statement that the focus on “test scores and their consequences” has been an obstacle to student learning. The Common Core initiative expects teachers to be evaluated in part by their students’ performance on Common Core-aligned assessments.

Michael Cohen, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit Achieve said in his statement:

A dip in the national average on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is cause for concern, but not alarm. The majority of states actually saw no change in their scores from 2013. However, the decreases for many states in 8th grade math are unexpected and need a full review.

It is far too soon for us to have a full understanding of the causes of the score changes; fingers have been pointed at demographics, reform policies, the ongoing implementation of the Common Core State Standards, poverty, and more….

However, Ze’ev Wurman, former U.S. Education Department senior policy adviser, disagrees.

“The current significant declines in three out of four NAEP indicators, and a stagnation in the fourth one, are probably not a blip,” he tells Breitbart News.

Wurman continues:

Many states already experienced stagnation, or even slight declines, in the 2013 NAEP. Then it was a blip — Common Core had been seriously introduced only in a handful of states at the time, and a couple of years of implementation were insufficient to attribute causality. The 2015 NAEP results actually seems the continuation of a trend rather than a blip, where Common Core upheaval harms states’ achievement. In fact, one can already discern a small negative correlation of about 0.3 between the intensity of Common Core implementation in the state (as defined by Tom Loveless of Brookings) and the decline in NAEP scores since 2013. It is insufficient to attribute causality but it certainly does not seem “just a blip” as some try to argue.

It is also interesting to note that Secretary Duncan pointed to Massachusetts, that supposedly saw a drop in test scores after raising standards two decades ago before becoming a consistently high-achieving state, as his way of “excusing” the NAEP drop. It seems Duncan attempts to rewrite history. Massachusetts suffered a significant decline only in fourth grade reading once in 2003 … truly a “blip.” Otherwise it continued its impressive climb to the top of the states … until losing ground since 2011 in all four NAEP indicators. That certainly is not even close to past Massachusetts’ record, despite what Mr. Duncan would have us believe.

Wurman notes that Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010, now has five years under its belt with the controversial standards.

“In fourth grade Kentucky’s achievement has generally held steady and even slightly improved since 2011, yet in eighth grade the state saw its achievement dropping by 2 points in reading and 4 points in math,” he observes. “One could say it is not the greatest advertisement for Common Core.”

How will the weak NAEP results be handled by proponents of Common Core?

Senior fellow at American Principles Project Jane Robbins tells Breitbart News, “I fully expect the NAEP to be ‘revised’ to align with Common Core’s diminished expectations so that we don’t have any more embarrassing results.”


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