Edu Sec’y: Test Scores Embarrassing Because Schools ‘Retooling’ to Common Core

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. explains that the just-released dismal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results need to be viewed in light of the seven years of “significant changes” in America’s classrooms due to the Common Core standards.

Calling for “patience” as schools continue to implement the “new and higher standards,” King said in a press release:

Over the past seven years, schools have undergone some of the most significant changes in decades – work that is being led by educators who are retooling their classroom practices to adapt to new and higher standards. We know the results of those changes will not be seen overnight, so we need to be patient – but not passive – in continuing to pursue the goal of preparing all students for success after high school. Indeed, the data show us some opportunities where we can make a difference. For example, 12th-graders who took math classes their senior year did significantly better on NAEP than those who did not, which indicates how important it is that schools continue to expand opportunities – particularly for historically underserved students – to take advanced coursework. It’s important to continue to help all students meet and exceed these high standards – especially those learners who are the furthest behind.

However, Ze’ev Wurman, an education fellow at American Principles Project, tells Breitbart News Common Core is the only reasonable explanation for why test results are declining.

“The only plausible explanation for such an unprecedented broad national decline is the Common Core,” Wurman asserts, adding:

In an NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] webinar a suggestion was made that, perhaps, the frequent change to state standards over the recent years, such as in Indiana or Oklahoma, caused this decline. This hypothesis is unconvincing because only 2-3 states have actually changed their standards over the recent 3-4 years and even those changes were rather insignificant. It was also interesting to note that the NCES webinar largely focused on comparing the 2015 results to the 1992 (reading) and 2005 (math) starting points, omitting the increases in student performance since then. In other words, we should be satisfied that Common Core only erased the achievement gains of the last 10-20 years and didn’t do more damage than that.

According to the 2015 NAEP results – also known as the Nation’s Report Card – only 37 percent of U.S. high school seniors are prepared for college-level coursework in mathematics and in reading, a drop since the last assessments in 2013.

Wurman states:

We should remember that Common Core was imposed on the nation under the excuse of expecting college readiness from all students. The fraction of college-ready 12th graders dropped since 2013, from 39% to 37% in math and from 38% to 37% in reading. Even more interestingly, NAEP scores show that less than 50% of students taking pre-calculus class by 12th grade are deemed college ready. Only when students take a calculus class by grade 12, more than 50% of them reach college readiness by high school graduation. Perhaps this is a good time to remind everyone that Common Core – in its fullness – does not prepare students even for a full pre-calculus class, as Jason Zimba, one of its key authors, attested.

Last October, NAEP results found that – for the first time since the early 1990s – math scores of fourth and eighth graders dropped. In addition, eighth grade reading scores declined, while those of fourth graders remained flat.

These data were especially significant because most of the fourth and eighth grade students administered the biennial assessments live in states that have implemented the Common Core math and English Language Arts standards that by now were supposed to have begun to improve student skills in these core areas and shrink the achievement gap between white and minority students. Though a number of states “repealed” Common Core, most of them simply “rebranded” the same standards with a different, local flavor name.

In the 2015 NAEP results, the percentage of students performing at or above the Basic level in mathematics was lower compared to the data from 2013, but a higher percentage of students performed below Basic. In reading, the percentage of seniors performing below Basic in 2015 was also higher compared with 2013. These results show an increase in the percentage of students performing at the lowest level.

The national average mathematics score in 2015 for twelfth-grade students was lower than in 2013, and the average reading score was not significantly different.

“The first thing that strikes us is the fact that for the first time in 10 years we see drops in 12th grade student achievement in both math and reading,” Wurman, a former Bush administration education department advisor, continues. “While the drop in reading does not reach statistical significance, the drop in math does.”

He adds:

In particular we should note that the drops were more pronounced for low-achieving students, with students at the 10th, 25th and 50th percentiles dropping in both reading and math. Only the highest-achieving students in reading showed some improvement. For example, the fraction of students scoring below basic rose from 25% in 2013 to 28% in 2015, and in math from 35% from 38%.

Wurman observes that this year’s NAEP results provide no data for individual states, supposedly due to budget cuts. The lack of state data, he says, means “we cannot attempt to glean individual state performance change.”

“Yet, lest one thinks that the decline is because of those ‘poor states in the south,’ in the 2013 NAEP that did have state results, Massachusetts was the only state that showed large declines in both reading and math in grade 12,” he notes. “A plausible explanation might be that Massachusetts was extra sensitive to the mediocrity of Common Core because of the excellence of its previous standards. It would be interesting to see if that decline continued in 2015 but the absence of state-level results makes it impossible.”


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