The ‘nation’s report card:’ two very different reactions

The 2019 installment of “the nation’s report card” is public, and the responses are, well, mixed.

Here is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ scathing statement on the new National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores.

“Every American family needs to open The Nation’s Report Card this year and think about what it means for their child and for our country’s future. The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students.

“Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states and eighth-grade reading declined in 31. The gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite $1 trillion in federal spending over 40 years designated specifically to help close it.

“This must be America’s wake-up call. We cannot abide these poor results any longer. We can neither excuse them away nor simply throw more money at the problem.

“This administration has a transformational plan to help America’s forgotten students escape failing schools. By expanding education freedom, students can break out of the one-size-fits all system and learn in the ways that will unlock their full potential. They deserve it. Parents demand it. And, it’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs.

“I want to thank the staff at the National Center for Education Statistics and the members of the National Assessment Governing Board for their work and for their commitment to providing this important assessment of student achievement.”

By contrast, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s office issued a news release hailing the numbers, saying they provide “some encouraging news” as Idaho tries to improve math and reading scores.

“Once again, our students debunked the myth that Idaho education lags near the bottom of state rankings,” she said. “This is the only assessment that measures what U.S. students know and can do in every state, and Idaho students performed better than the national average in all four tested cohorts.”

DeVos and Ybarra are talking about the same test, but from decidedly different vantage points.

The national NAEP numbers contain very little good news. Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores dropped. Math scores were a mixed bag — up one point (on a 500-point scale) in fourth grade, down one point in eighth grade. Wednesday’s national headlines (from USA Today, the Hechinger Report and The 74) weren’t exactly glowing.

But as we reported, Idaho’s NAEP scores came in above the national averages — and across the board. The scores didn’t really move much, and haven’t for a decade. And like 30 other states, Idaho’s eighth-grade reading scores dropped significantly over the past two years. Still, Idaho did outperform national averages, as Ybarra said.

Because NAEP tests a sampling of students from every state, it lends itself to state-to-state comparisons, as well as comparisons over time. Hence its unofficial status as the “nation’s report card.”

But it’s possible to look at the same grades and arrive at very different conclusions. It’s a function of perspective.





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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