‘Nation’s Report Card’ Math and Reading Assessments Postponed Due to Remote Learning

The scores of United States fourth graders dropped on an international measure of reading skills – with those of the lowest-performing students declining the most – following years of the implementation of Common Core.
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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Tuesday the U.S. math and reading assessments known as the “Nation’s Report Card” will be postponed until 2022 due largely to the reliance on remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

A press statement by James Woodworth, Ph.D., NCES commissioner, said the tests, which are administered every two years, cannot be administered “in a manner with sufficient validity and reliability to meet” the statutory requirements defined by the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).

Woodworth explained remote learning has significantly affected the way in which the progress of American students can be adequately evaluated:

Too many students are receiving their education through distance learning or are physically attending schools in locations where outside visitors to the schools are being kept at a minimum due to COVID levels. The NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] assessments are a key indicator of educational progress in the United States with trends going back decades. The change in operations and lack of access to students to be assessed means that NAEP will not be able to produce estimates of what students know and can do that would be comparable to either past or future national or state estimates.

Woodworth continued that, by postponing the assessments until 2022, “we are allowing time for conditions on the ground to stabilize before attempting a large-scale national assessment.”

“Further, if we attempted to move forward with a collection in 2021 and failed to produce estimates of student performance, we would not only have spent tens of millions of dollars, but also will not by law be able to conduct the next grades four and eight reading and mathematics assessments until 2023,” he added.

Woodworth said the decision to delay the national assessments as the pandemic continues will serve to eliminate greater risk of spreading infection, given that shared outside equipment and proctors typically go from school to school to administer the tests.

“State assessments, however, generally use existing school staff and equipment; thus, eliminating this additional risk associated with NAEP,” he added. “Therefore, while having nationally comparable NAEP data to estimate the impact of the COVID pandemic on educational progress would be ideal but impossible, there is still an opportunity to get solid state-by-state data on the impact of COVID on student outcomes.”

In a letter to Chief State School Officers in September, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said waivers for state assessments would not likely be granted this year, despite the pandemic.

Citing the “bipartisan agreement that forged” the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the massive federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind, DeVos wrote state assessments are central to that agreement and “are among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees education, said in a joint statement that “while the decision to postpone NAEP is unfortunate, it is understandable.”

The Democrat leaders continued the announcement to postpone the national assessments “makes 2021 administration of statewide assessments required by federal law a moral imperative.”

“In the absence of NAEP and without statewide assessments, parents, educators, and policymakers would have zero data on the scope of learning loss,” they added.

Results of the Nation’s Report Card assessments have continued to show that students who struggle in core areas of reading and math are declining further in these areas — even when they have been in school for regular in-classroom learning.

Despite continued calls for more funding of government schools, results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tested grades 4, 8, and 12 prior to the pandemic, showed that just about one in three U.S. 12th graders read proficiently and less than one in four are proficient in math.

Moreover, already struggling students, in the 25th percentile or lower — many of whom come from low-income families — declined even further in both reading and math, compared to four years ago.

The achievement gap — even while students have been taught in person in their schools — has widened between higher performing, mostly white and Asian students, and lower performing, mostly black and Hispanic students.

In 2019, Dr. Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, noted results of the Nation’s Report Card assessment for students actually attending school.

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse,” Carr said. “In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest-performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”

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