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alphabet soup help

To recap Part 1, the Long Term Trend NAEP scores for Reading show no gains in the scores of 17-year-olds and nominal gains for 9- and 13-year-olds.  The Main NAEP scores show that more than half the country is not proficient in Reading or Math. Poverty statistics from the Census do not explain why the lack of proficiency outstrips the poverty rate by over 40% if, in fact, poverty is the main reason students do not perform up to expectations.

Hopefully the reader is reading Part I and Part II together, because the background of the NAEP tests is explained in detail in Part !.  If not, understand that the Long Term NAEP tests are those that have been given to students in the United States since the 70s, and they are designed to track progress over time since the tests are kept relatively the same.

Reading Scores Continued

When we left off, we saw that reading scores had not improved very much in 40 years, especially in 17-year-olds. Reminder:  Clicking on the picture will open up a new box with an easier to read graph or chart.

reading trend 2012 LTT

Next, the 17-year-old scores are disseminated by percentiles.

17 year old scores LTT disseminated 2012

This graph points to an even more disturbing trend in 17-year-old test scores; which is that the scores of students in the highest percentiles – 75th and 90th – have actually decreased to a level below that of the first test given back in 1971.  But note how the red highlighted text box only points out the gains made in the scores of the lowest percentile groups; the 10th and 25th percentiles.   This is the same myopic view I personally observed in my daughter’s public school: As long as the bottom is being brought up, and your child is average or above average, public education is considered successful.  This does not bode well for the students who have historically been the most likely to attend college and to be leaders in science, math, government and business. I am not suggesting that you must go to college to be successful.  There are a plethora of success stories that blow that generalization out of the water, but we are not talking about the outliers here.  We are talking about an education system that should push every student to achieve to their highest ability not some watered-down average.

Presented next are data sets for the scores of Whites and Blacks.  Note:  I use Whites and Blacks because the tests refer to these subgroups as such.

black white reading gap 9

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

black white reading gap 13

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

black white reading gap 17

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

These data sets indicate that the gap between White and Black scores has narrowed significantly for all age groups.  But what the red data bullets do not address is that this has been achieved primarily by raising the scores of Blacks (and Hispanics) NOT Whites.  Whites’ scores rose 7%, 3%, and 1% compared to Black scores rising by 21%, 11%, and 13%.   Curiously, the scores of Blacks, between 1988 and 1992, fell significantly before rising again, but that is a mystery to address another time.

Presented next is a comparison of Catholic school student and public school student scores against the scores of different grade subgroups within each age group.  I will also refer the Catholic school scores back to the scores of Whites already presented.

catholic public gap 9 read

results by grade 9 read

I will also do this for the other two age groups, but before moving on, I want to make several points.

I suspected, before looking at this data, that children in lower grades would score lower than their same-aged counterparts in higher grades.  This, in fact, did occur.  It is interesting to note that the number of children in 3rd grade at 9 years old has increased significantly since the 1970s; from 24% to 37%.  This trend is the same in the other age groups.

Given that 9-year-olds have increased reading scores despite the fact that more of them being tested have had a year less of reading instruction, one would (or could) expect that the reading scores would increase even more in later years.  We will explore in the next two comparisons whether that actually happened.

But why did I include the Catholic school comparison?  I wanted to analyze if the score gap between Catholic schools, which traditionally employ a more “classical” curriculum, and public schools would be erased if the children in the lower grades were eliminated (even though I presume that Catholic schools have a similar percentage of children in the lower grades for each age group as indicated for the entire data set).  Why might this be important?  Because if the scores were the same, or if the scores for all schools were higher than the Catholic school scores, then the conclusion that curriculum makes a significant difference might require a more critical look-see.

However, the Catholic school scores, which were not disseminated for differences in grade level, were still higher than those of all school students at the expected grade level for the age being tested.  And remember, the national NAEP scores include the scores of the Catholic school students.  In fact, these same Catholic school students, just 261 of them in 2012, would appear to have actually raised the national score by a full point for 9-year-olds.  As the reader will note, the overall reading score for 9-year-olds is 221 but the disseminated data puts the public school score alone at just 220.  Looking back at the score of White students in the previously presented graphs, which was 229 and also includes the higher scores of the White Catholic students, the public school scores still fall short of the Catholic school scores.

catholic public gap 13 read

results by grade 13 read

The score gap between Catholic schools and public schools widened from 11 to 16 points when comparing the testing of 9- and 13-year-olds.  Moreover, the gap between the highest grade tested (8th grade) and the average Catholic school score increased from 2 points to 7 points.  Another interesting observation is that those children in the 8th grade at 13 years old have only increased their scores by 5 points since the 70s while the kids at the lower grade (7th grade) have increased their score by 21 points.  Again, this points to a system that brings up the bottom but fails to do the same for all students.

Given what I saw taking place in my daughter’s public school, the increasing percentage of older kids in lower grades is likely a result of parents purposefully holding their children back from entering Kindergarten.  I saw this a lot.  It was one of my biggest pet peeves, but my suspicion is that the trend is driven in large part by parents realizing that their children are not developmentally prepared to do the work expected of them in Kindergarten, not to mention First and Second grade, especially if they lie near the younger end of the age range set by individual states.  Cynically, I suspect a lot of the motivation is parents trying to position their children for success, not only in academics, but in sports later on down the line (sigh).

In any event, none of this gerrymandering points to an inherent deficiency in the children, but rather, is in part a response to the advanced difficulty of the curriculum for elementary school students being perceived as expanding too far, too fast.  While our kids are doing some very impressive things at the elementary school level (e.g., writing journals in Kindergarten), it comes at the price of actually learning to proficiency the skills needed to achieve at higher levels in later grades.  I compare it to cramming for an appearance on Jeopardy.  Yes, it is dramatic in the same way that parlor tricks can be dramatic, but does the amount of knowledge game show contestants cram into their brains result in long term gains that will help contestants be more successful in their careers or in their lives?  Personally, I would like someone to explain to me why we decided that forcing more information on elementary school students without mastery of any of it was the way to achieve greater success in education.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

catholic public gap 17 read

results by grade 17 read

By age 17, the score gap between Catholic and public schools increased from 16 to 23 points and the gap between the scores of 11th graders in all schools and the average 17-year-old in Catholic school widened to 16 points; remember it was 7 points in the 13-year-old age group.

The trend of same grade score changes is even more pronounced in the 17-year-old group.  The 11th graders barely nudged their score from 291 in the 70s to 293 in 2012.  The 12th graders actually saw their scores fall from 303 in the 70s to 291 in 2012.  In the meantime, 10th graders saw their scores rise almost 30 points from 238 to 266.  Again, it shows how our schools heap more on early at the expense of retention for the long term.  In my own school district, I see two competing camps in this dance of trying to raise the scores of highschoolers.  First, they adopt more academic requirements for the elementary school students thinking there will be long term benefits, but at the same time they withhold monetary resources that could improve elementary facilities.  Instead, they spend the facilities improvement money in the high school and middle school (but mainly the high school).

This is why real people who control local taxes NEED to be educated about education.  They have to stop listening to anti-reformers tell them everything is O.K. with education, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.  Because the result of that rhetoric is that the average tax payer sees the 17-year-old scores and mistakenly thinks the problem is there in high school and that that is where the problem can be fixed and the money should be spent.

Some in the poverty camp have argued that if you took out the scores of lower income students, which make up a larger portion of the testing base today (i.e., Blacks and Hispanics), the average scores of students would be shown to have improved more than indicated by the current average.  However, it should be noted that the average scores of Whites in each age group is almost exactly the same as the average score of the higher grade students while the Black students’ average scores are about the same as the average scores of those children in the lower grades.  This suggests to me that being poor (assuming that the Black subgroup contains more poor students than the White subgroup) puts children about a year behind their peers.  Further, I redirect the reader to the tables that show the actual paltry gains that Whites have made in reading in 40 years.   Further, if you compare the Whites only scores (which also include the whites at Catholic schools) to Catholic school scores alone, Catholic schools still outperform public schools.

My personal belief is that Whole Language is the primary reason that children do not continue to make gains in reading after their initial “impressive” start.   In an education environment that devalues – no, RIDICULES – learning by rote when it comes to math, Whole Language teaches reading in a way that is equivalent to flash cards (i.e., sight words).  Sadly, in this case, memorizing a bunch of sight words does not prepare students to decipher the more complex words needed to increase vocabulary and develop excellent writing skills.  I have devoted several blog posts that address my disappointment in Whole Language, so I will not revisit that in depth here, but if you are not familiar with Whole Language, I would suggest you do some research.    Also, the NAEP surveys indicate that those students who say they read for fun almost every day score significantly higher than their peers, especially in the lower age groups.  So, make sure your kids CAN read and ARE reading.  I suggest it be excellent, challenging literature; not just the picture books that Whole Language uses to teach kids to guess words they do not know.

In Part III, we will look at the Math results.