Flat NAEP scores conceal achievement gaps

Scores on the “nation’s report card” were more or less flat — but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students appears to be widening, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress test results released Tuesday.

“It certainly is an alarm bell,” said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank, in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s something to watch and monitor, especially if this persisted.”

Nationally, only eighth-grade reading scores improved from 2015, the last time students took the NAEP. But that was because high-achieving students fared better in 2017, while lower-achieving students held their ground.

The pattern repeated itself elsewhere. In the eighth-grade math test, higher-performing students scored better in 2017, but these gains were offset by lower scores from lower-performing students.

In the fourth-grade math and reading tests, lower-performing students lost ground from 2015, but not enough to affect the overall scores.

In Idaho, the achievement gap widened on the eighth-grade math test — but the pattern wasn’t nearly as pronounced on the other NAEP exams. Here’s a look at the numbers.

Math, grade 4 2015 2017 Change
90th percentile 275 276 +1
10th percentile 200 201 +1
Math, grade 8 2015 2017 Change
90th percentile 325 332 +7
10th percentile 240 235 -5
Reading, grade 4 2015 2017 Change
90th percentile 264 266 +2
10th percentile 174 172 -2
Reading, grade 8 2015 2017 Change
90th percentile 307 307 0
10th percentile 227 229 +2

Idaho reported other achievement gaps. Hispanic student scores came in 19 to 25 points lower than white student scores on NAEP’s 500-point scale. Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored 16 to 24 points lower than students who do not qualify for subsidized lunch. These longstanding gaps have existed since the early 2000s, according to a National Center for Education Statistics breakdown of the Idaho scores.

For more about Idaho’s NAEP scores, read our main story from Tuesday’s data drop.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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