Primary Progress, Secondary Challenge: A State-by-State Look at Student Achievement Patterns

Daria Hall and Shana Kennedy
The Education Trust
March 2006

In this short report, Ed Trust provides a useful service by pulling together state test score trends from 2003 to 2005. We learn, for example, that 22 of the 29 states for which data are available narrowed their black/white test-score gap in reading. We also learn, as the title implies, that reading scores are improving in more states’ elementary schools than in middle and high schools. (Math gains are strong across the board.) So far so good, and the gap-closing is a heartening sign that No Child Left Behind is starting to have its intended impact. But then the report goes off the rails. It provides overall trends in math and reading, grouping states by whether their scores increased, decreased, or stayed the same from 2003-2005. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Fordham did a similar analysis—that provided a comparison of trends on state reading tests with states’ performance on NAEP (the national standard)—the day the 2005 NAEP scores were released (see here). But the Ed Trust charts don’t compare state scores to gains on NAEP, so readers of its report have no way to know whether a state’s reported progress is good news (its students are learning more) or bad news (the state might be finding ways to make its own test easier). Take Michigan, for example. The percentage of elementary students reaching the proficient level on its state reading test rose 7 points; middle schoolers bumped up 12 points. Great news, right? But on NAEP, over the same period, the percentage of 4th grade and 8th grade students reaching either proficient or “basic” actually dropped or stayed the same. To its credit, Ed Trust provides an appendix comparing state achievement scores and NAEP scores for 2005. (Remarkably enough, this turned out to be the driver for most of the report’s press coverage. See here and here.) Still, the venerable organization would have been better off sticking to its gap-closing analysis. If you want an independent assessment of whether a state is actually making progress, stick with the NAEP.

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