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Are states reporting the truth about student achievement?

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) vs State Self Reports

Are States Being Honest with Themselves About Student Achievement?

The charts below compare the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reports on reading and math achievement with the state self-reports required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The discrepancies are shocking and they clearly illustrate the need for higher standards, but not necessarily for Common Core.

What these discrepancies more directly reveal is a continuing pattern of reports that serve to maintain a favorable image for the state’s public education community.  If the annual testing results show that schools are doing a satisfactory job, there is no reason for adopting higher standards or undertaking any other uncomfortable changes.

With all of the testing and accountability entailed by No Child Left Behind, it is difficult to recall that as recently as the late nineteen eighties, all states were reporting that their students were above average in achievement.  Not until John Jacob Cannell’s Lake Woebegon reports revealed this fact did state education agencies reluctantly begin to change.  Plainly, many have continued the old ways.

Virtually all organizations try to maintain a favorable public image.  Facts are revealed but typically with accomplishments highlighted and deficiencies minimized.  Slanted school performance reporting, however, has some very damaging side effects:  It hurts children by falsely creating the impression of satisfactory progress and it justifies a public complacency about education that undermines the energy and support necessary for renewal and improvement.  It is little wonder that many of the states with inflated self-reports have done the least to improve their outcomes.

Importantly, however, there are significant number of leaders who have looked to outside assessments like the NAEP and challenged the business-as-usual approach.  Governors in Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, and Louisiana are among the many state and local leaders who have addressed the self-deception issue, faced the facts, spoken the truth, and made the case for education reform–and all before Common Core standards were embraced.

At the Education Consumers Foundation, we believe that these leaders took the right approach.  Reform and improvement are desperately needed but they do not need to be top-down and loaded with huge costs and special interest baggage.  Our mission is to support these grassroots initiatives by providing the resources that reform-minded leaders in any state or locality can use to advance their cause.  A good example is the charts and analyses we created in support of reform efforts led by Knox County, Tennessee mayor Tim Burchett.  We are pleased to have supported similar efforts at the state and school district levels as well.

In all cases, however, step one is the same:  Prospective reform leaders and their constituents have to know the facts and accept that their schools have a problem.  A good place to start is our third grade reading charts and our cost-of-reading-failure calculator.  They enable users to see how well their schools are teaching children to read and to estimate the local tax burden created by failure to successfully teach reading.

From the point of that decision, there are many paths forward including running for school board.