Idaho NAEP scores steady, and in line with national numbers

The “nation’s report card” is in — and Idaho scores remained stable and solid.

“Overall, I’m pleased,” state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said of the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, released Tuesday.

One recurring comment on Idaho’s report card: “statistically insignificant.” In other words, most Idaho scores more or less line up with the national numbers — and in most cases, Idaho’s scores really didn’t change much from the last NAEP test in 2015.

NAEP is a closely watched exam, because a cross-section of students across the nation take the test every two years. That means the test allows comparisons between states — hence the nation’s report card moniker — as well as comparisons over time.

Here are a few key takeaways from the new NAEP numbers:

  • In all four test areas — fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth- and eighth-grade reading — Idaho’s scores slightly exceeded the national averages. Those gaps were small, as low as one point on a test with a 500-point scale. In most cases, these differences are so small that they are not statistically significant.
  • There is one exception: eighth-grade reading. Here, Idaho’s students posted an average score of 270, exceeding the national average by five points and ranking No. 8 in the nation. The national scores improved from 2015 — the one significant change, and Idaho’s scores kept pace.
  • The percentage of Idaho students scoring “proficient” or “advanced” improved slightly from 2015 — but none of these upticks were large enough to be statistically significant. NAEP scores do not translate to grade level scores, since every state defines grade level differently. But proficiency is a key yardstick, measuring “solid academic performance demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter.”
  • Idaho’s English language learners continue to struggle. Their math and fourth-grade reading scores have dropped since 2007 — a statistically significant decrease that is not mirrored in the national scores. Ybarra says her State Department of Education will look more closely at the ELL numbers, and work with Idaho’s Hispanic community on the issue.

Idaho’s stay-the-course report card drew a stay-the-course reaction from State Board of Education President Linda Clark. She said the numbers validate the state’s five-year plan to invest in K-12, an outgrowth of Gov. Butch Otter’s 2013 education task force.

“We need to find ways to accelerate the progress we are making and to better understand why some of our students are falling behind,” she said. “Investments always take time, and we are moving in the right direction.”

Achievement gaps are not unique to Idaho; on the national scale, the differences seem to be widening. For example, the eighth-grade reading scores improved because top-performing students scored even higher on the 2017 test; other student scores remained flat.

For Ybarra, elected in 2014, this is her second round with NAEP results. In 2015, she said she found drops in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores “concerning.” Those math numbers didn’t fully rebound in 2017 — but Ybarra is encouraged by the slight improvement in fourth-grade math. But as Ybarra seeks a second four-year term this year, she said she was encouraged by the new NAEP results, particularly in reading.

“It’s sometimes popular to complain that the quality of Idaho education ranks near the bottom of the barrel nationally, but this well-respected assessment shows that is simply not true,” she said.

About NAEP

NAEP is administered to a cross-section of public school students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Department of Defense schools and 27 urban school districts.

Idaho’s student sample size was about 2,400 students, said Paul Kleinert, the State Department of Education’s NAEP coordinator. For example, about 2,400 fourth-graders were chosen for the math exam, and a separate group of 2,400 fourth-graders took the reading exam. The same process was used for eighth-graders.

Student samples were designed to reflect overall demographics. But since the test is given only to a sample of students, school and district data is not available.

Students took the test between January and March 2017.

The NAEP reading and math assessments were first given in the early 1990s.

NAEP is a congressionally authorized testing program, and the U.S. Department of Education sponsors the test.

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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