Idaho math scores drop in new NAEP report

A new nationwide report showing decreasing math scores among Idaho students is “concerning,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said.

Supt. Ybarra1
State superintendent Sherri Ybarra

Average math scores for Idaho students in fourth and eighth grade each dropped by two points compared to two years ago, according to the National Assessment for Education Progress, or NAEP.

However, Idaho scores were slightly ahead of national averages, which have decreased in both math and reading.

New NAEP scores released Wednesday showed that 38 percent of Idaho’s fourth-graders scored at “proficient” or above in the national assessments, which are given every two years. Just 34 percent of the state’s eighth-graders tested at “proficient” or above.

“The NAEP results in mathematics are concerning; however, they won’t change the direction that we are currently moving to support schools and students to achieve, and we will continue to monitor future NAEP results as well as other indicators to ensure our initiatives are successful,” Ybarra said in a written statement provided by the State Department of Education.

Ybarra was traveling out-of-state Wednesday, and unavailable for an interview, an SDE spokesman said.

Idaho’s fourth-grade math scores were the worst since 2003, while eighth-grade math scores were the lowest since 2007, according to NAEP.

“Overall, the State Board of Education would like to see more students scoring proficient and advanced in math and reading at both the fourth and eighth grade levels of the National Assessment for Education Progress,” Idaho State Board of Education President Don Soltman said in a written statement. “As the 20 recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education are fully implemented, the board expects to see improvement among Idaho students in the future.”

The reading scores offered better news, especially in fourth grade, where average scores increased by three points compared to 2013. Overall, 36 percent of the Gem State’s fourth-graders scored at “proficient” or better.

In eighth grade, reading scores dropped off by one point from 2013 levels. In reading, 37 percent of Idaho eighth-graders scored at “proficient” or above.

In both grade levels, Idaho students out-performed the national average in reading for 2015.

In her statement, Ybarra said literacy coaches and other efforts aimed to improve reading are promising. Ybarra has also called for spending $5 million more next year on new reading and literacy initiatives.

“I have been traveling the state, hearing feedback that our coaches’ network is truly meeting the needs of schools and students — the NAEP results in reading only solidify this effort,” Ybarra’s statement read.

Soltman pointed to signs of optimism within the new report.

“Idaho’s fourth-grade students are on par with the national average in reading and math, and our state’s eighth graders are out performing the national average in the same two subject areas,” Soltman continued. “ In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics’ analysis of year 2015 NAEP results shows that only five states had a higher average eighth-grade reading score than Idaho students.”

Wednesday’s NAEP math scores, outlined in a report called The Nation’s Report Card, are the latest source of concern for Idahoans. Idaho’s 11th grade SAT math scores dropped in April. And just 30 percent of Idaho’s 10th grade students scored “proficient” or higher last year during the first round of ISAT by Smarter Balanced tests, sometimes called the SBAC.

“It’s telling us that what we are doing is not necessarily getting to all of our students,” Pete Keohler, Ybarra’s chief deputy, told Idaho Education News after SAT results were released in August.

Idaho’s decreases in math were similar to national results, which showed math scores dropping off by one point in fourth grade and two points in eighth grade.

U.S. Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the decreases in NAEP scores shows that lawmakers need to overhaul federal education laws.

“Today’s results from the Nation’s Report Card are disappointing news for our country’s students and show that the No Child Left Behind federal law and waivers are no longer helping our students improve their performance,” Alexander said in a news release. “Our fourth graders are doing worse in math compared to 2013, and eighth graders are falling back in both math and reading.”

The tests are scored on a scale of 0-500. In Idaho, the average fourth grade math score was 239, just below the national average for math. In eighth grade, Idaho’s average score was 284, slightly ahead of the national average of 281.

News of the decrease in scores led The National Center for Fair and Open Testing advocacy group to call on President Obama and Congress to end federal testing mandates, which the group says are not working.

“(Scores) provide more evidence that test-and-punish policies, which have dominated U.S. public schools for the past decade and a half, are an abject failure,” the group’s statement read.

NAEP scores, at a glance

(Scale of 0-500)

Math

Fourth grade

Idaho 239 (38 percent “proficient” or better)

United States 240

Eighth grade

Idaho 284 (34 percent “proficient” or better)

United States 281

Reading

Fourth grade

Idaho 222 (36 percent proficient or better)

United States 221

Eighth grade

Idaho 269 (37 percent proficient or above)

United States 264

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics.