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The NAEP Indictment of Corporate Reform

October 28, 2015

On October 28, 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the 2015 “Nation’s Report Card”– the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.

Students across the nation are randomly selected to complete the NAEP, which is given approximately every two years in two areas (reading and math) in grades 4, 8 and 12. The primary focus is on NAEP results for grades 4 and 8, since NAEP participation for grades 4 and 8 became a federal mandate for states as a result of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.

These two files include state and national NAEP scores from the early 1990s to the present:

1992-2015 NAEP_Results_Reading

1990-2015 NAEP_Results_Math

The above files as well as other NAEP data tables can be found using the search engine at the bottom of this link. Available tables include those for NAEP reading and math scores in select, large districts.

The short story regarding the 2o15 NAEP results are that they are a lackluster indictment of the test-score-driven reforms that have plagued the American public schools for the past 15 years.

A lot is being written (and spun) regarding these scores. Two articles in particular capture well the unmistakable failure of test-centric, corporate reform. The first is this October 28, 2015, post by education historian, Diane Ravitch. Here is an enlightening excerpt:

Sometimes events happen that seem to be disconnected, but after a few days or weeks, the pattern emerges. Consider this: On October 2, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he was resigning and planned to return to Chicago. Former New York Commissioner of Education John King, who is a clone of Duncan in terms of his belief in testing and charter schools, was designated to take Duncan’s place. On October 23, the Obama administration held a surprise news conference to declare that testing was out of control and should be reduced to not more than 2% of classroom time. Actually, that wasn’t a true reduction, because 2% translates into between 18-24 hours of testing, which is a staggering amount of annual testing for children in grades 3-8 and not different from the status quo in most states.

Disconnected events?

Not at all. Here comes the pattern-maker: the federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).

For nearly 15 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and the Congress have bet billions of dollars—both federal and state– on a strategy of testing, accountability, and choice. They believed that if every student was tested in reading and mathematics every year from grades 3 to 8, test scores would go up and up. In those schools where test scores did not go up, the principals and teachers would be fired and replaced. Where scores didn’t go up for five years in a row, the schools would be closed. Thousands of educators were fired, and thousands of public schools were closed, based on the theory that sticks and carrots, rewards and punishments, would improve education.

But the 2015 NAEP scores released today by the National Assessment Governing Board (a federal agency) showed that Arne Duncan’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program had flopped. It also showed that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind was as phony as the “Texas education miracle” of 2000, which Bush touted as proof of his education credentials.

The second pointed article about the NAEP evidence of corporate reform failure comes from National Education Policy Center (NEPC) director Kevin Welner. Welner’s article, dated October 28, 2015, is entitled, “NAEPscuses: Making Sense of Excuse-Making from the No-Excuses Contingent.” Below is an excerpt, but know that the entire article is well worth a read:

…The promises of education’s test-driven reformers over the past couple decades have been unfulfilled. The potpourri of education “reform” policy has not moved the needle—even though reformers, from Bush to Duncan, repeatedly assured us that it would.

This is the tragedy. It has distracted policymakers’ attention away from the extensive research showing that, in a very meaningful way, achievement is caused by opportunities to learn. It has diverted them from the truth that the achievement gap is caused by the opportunity gap. Those advocating for today’s policies have pushed policymakers to disregard the reality that the opportunity gap arises more from out-of-school factors than inside-of-school factors.

Instead, they assured us that success was a simple matter of adults looking beyond crumbling buildings and looking away from the real-life challenges of living with racism or poverty. As a substitute, we were told to look toward a “no excuses” expectation for all children. This mantra has driven policy for an entire generation of students. The mantra was so powerful that we as a nation were able to ignore the facts and fail to provide our children with opportunities to learn.

So schools with low test scores were labeled “failing” and were shut down or reconstituted or turned over to private operators of charter schools. Voucher and neovoucher policies pulled students out of “failing schools” (again, those with low test scores) and moved them to private schools. Teachers whose students’ test scores didn’t meet targets were publicly shamed or denied pay or even dismissed. Our entire public schooling structure became intensely focused on increasing test scores. …

It seems that the only lesson the new excuse-makers are asking us to draw from their nod to the importance of poverty is something like, “Don’t worry. The status-quo reform policies are probably still working.” Even though these advocates are now vocally recognizing the crushing impact of poverty, the policy implication of their epiphany remains beyond their grasp. Can they really be asking policymakers to keep focusing on test-based accountability in hopes that we might detect a small uptick in 15 years…?

Punitive, test-score-driven reform is a failure, and the nakedness of this truth in the 2015 NAEP scores cannot be concealed by how corporate reformers package the news.

Let’s examine some of that NAEP revelation, starting with national averages for public schools (note that earliest administrations did not allow for testing accommodations):

In 1992, the national NAEP score for grade 4 reading for public schools was 215. The score dipped to 212 in 1994 and rose to its highest point (221) in 2013, where it remained in 2015– but only after it sat at 220 for 2007, 2009, and 2011.

As for grade 8 reading, the nation’s public schools scored 261 in 1998. In 2013, this score peaked at 266. In 2015, it dropped to 264.

The national public school average NAEP score for grade 4 math showed more movement– but not too much in recent years. In 1992, the score was 219. It had its largest jump from 2000 to 2003– ten points– from 224 to 234. Twelve years later, in 2015, the score is at 240– which is where it was in 2011. In 2013, it peaked at 241.

As for grade 8 math, the nation’s public schools started with an average of 262 in 1990. The score tricked upward (276 in 2003 to 284 in 2013). In 2015, the NAEP grade 8 math national average for public school students dropped two points, to 281.

And now, for some state highlights in 2015 NAEP. I offer info on five states (Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Louisiana) and DC. (Remaining state results can be viewed using the NAEP files included in this post.)

Let’s start with state-level scores for 2015 NAEP grade 4 reading:

  • Massachusetts rose to 235 in 2015 from 232 in 2013– but it had a 237 in 2011 and a 236 in 2007.
  • New York has been vacillating between 222 and 224 since 2002. In 2015, it has a 223.
  • North Carolina has its highest average ever: 226. In 2002, it had a 222, which fell until 2013 and was once again 222.
  • Ohio had 226 in 2007, which dropped to 225 (2009), 224 (2011 and 2013), and back to 225 in 2015.
  • Louisiana has its highest score ever: 216, up from 210 (2011 and 2013).
  • DC also has its highest score ever: 212, up from 206 in 2015.

And now, for the sampling of 2015 NAEP grade 8 state-level reading averages:

  • Massachusetts fell to 274 from 277 (2013). However it had 274 in 2009… and in 2005.
  • New York fell to its lowest score ever: 263. It had been at 266 for 2011 and 2013– but it started out at 266 in 1998.
  • North Carolina fell to 261, from 265 in 2013. It started out at 264 in 1998.
  • Ohio had 266 in 2015. It started out at 268 in 2002 and peaked at 269 (2009, 2013).
  • Louisiana fell to 255. It had 256 in 2002 and peaked at 257 in 2013.
  • DC had 248, the same as it had in 2013– its peak.

Next, the 2015 NAEP grade 4 state averages in math:

  • Massachusetts fell to 251 from its peak of 253 (2011 and 2013). In 2007 and 2009, it had a 252.
  • New York dropped from 240 in 2013 to 237 in 2015. However, it peaked at 243 in 2007.
  • North Carolina had 244 in 2015– the same score it had in 2009. It peaked at 245 (2011 and 2013).
  • Ohio also had 244 in 2015– which it also had in 2009 and 2011. It had 245 in 2007 and peaked at 246 in 2013.
  • Louisiana had its highest score ever in 2015– 234– up from 231 in 2011 and 2013.
  • DC also had its highest score ever– 231– up from 229 in 2013.

Finally, for the 2015 NAEP grade 8 math state averages:

  • Massachusetts fell to 297 from its peak of 301 in 2013. In 2007, it had 298.
  • New York fell to 280– the same average it had in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2011. In peaked at 283 in 2009.
  • North Carolina fell to 281 from its peak of 286 in 2011 and 2013. It also had 281 in 2003.
  • Ohio fell to 285 from its peak of 290 in 2013. It also had 285 in 2007.
  • Louisiana fell to 268 from its peak of 273 (2011 and 2013). It also had 268 in 2005.
  • DC fell to 263 from its peak of 265 in 2013.

Results are mixed, kids.


If the goal of corporate reform were to produce a yo-yo of biennial national test score outcomes, then decades of NAEP results would prove test-centric, public education condemnation right.

But it isn’t. And they know it.

yoyo 3


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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