NAEP scores hold troubling and good news in both traditional and charter schools

The recent release of NAEP scores holds much troubling news for the nation’s students and some important lessons for us here in Idaho. NAEP is considered the “Gold Standard” in student performance over time across the nation’s schools. The 2022 results have triggered anguish and deep concern as our student performance, especially in math, has declined significantly since the last NAEP administration in 2019. Educators and policy makers were expecting to see a decline because of COVID-19 and the school closures it precipitated. In much of the country and for our neediest students these declines were worse than many had feared.

The news is not great for Idaho. Our fourth grade students have fallen far behind where Idaho fourth graders were in 2019. In reading, our fourth graders saw their average scale score decline from 223 to 215, and in math from 242 to 236. What’s truly troubling are the percentage of students performing below basic. In reading, this number jumped from 31% to 39% and in math from 18% to 24%. Our fourth graders in public charter schools outperformed Idaho averages in both 2019 and 2022, but also saw a real decline in both reading and math performance. In reading, Idaho public charter schools saw a drop in scale score from 236 to 225 and in math from 251 to 238. As with traditional schools, public charters saw an increase in students at below basic from 2019 to 2022. In reading, this number jumped from 17% to 28% and in math from 10% to 23%.

The news for our eighth graders is better, but still one of loss. In reading, our eighth graders saw their average scale score decline from 266 to 264, and in math from 286 to 282. As in fourth grade, we saw an increase in the percentage of students performing below basic, but not as dramatically as we saw for fourth graders. In reading, this number rose from 23% to 26% and in math from 26% to 29%. Our eighth graders in public charter schools outperformed Idaho averages in both 2019 and 2022, but also saw decline in reading and math. In reading Idaho public charter schools saw a drop in eighth grade scale score from 278 to 276 and in math from 305 to 291. Idaho public charters saw an increase in eighth grade students at below basic from 2019 to 2022. In reading, this number stayed flat at 14%, while in math it rose from 13% to 18%.

While these declines represent real learning loss for Idaho students in both our traditional district schools and our public charters things are far worse in other states. For example, Idaho public charter schools trailed only Department of Defense (DoDEA) schools and Massachusetts in fourth grade reading scores for 2022. In 4th grade math, where many states saw significant declines in performance, students in Idaho charter schools were ranked 17th and Idaho public schools overall were ranked 24th out of 54 jurisdictions tested. Mediocre but better than most.

For our eighth graders both the state’s public schools overall and Idaho public charter schools were relatively high performers. In eighth grade reading, Idaho ranked No. 7 and our charter school students trailed only DoDEA schools in reading for 2022. Idaho eighth graders performed even better in math with Idaho overall ranked at No. 4 and Idaho charter schools trailing only DoDEA schools. See tables 5 and 6 below.

The recent NAEP scores are yet again a reminder of the damage wrought on our nation’s students, and our state’s students, by COVID-19 and the subsequent school closures. Idaho’s 2022 fourth graders and eighth graders suffered learning losses in both reading and math. The pain was more acute for our younger students than for our older students. However, Idaho students held their ground academically better than their peers across the country, which is likely a reflection of our schools reopening earlier than in other states and to the fact many of our children still live in households with intact families that could provide learning opportunities when the schools were closed.

Idaho public charter school performance remains high compared to the performance of students in Idaho’s traditional schools, and in 2022 they were some of the highest performing students in the nation across grades and subjects tested. While Idaho charter student performance declined in all categories from 2019 to 2022; this decline is tempered by the fact that our public charters saw an increase of 5,200 students from 2018-9 to 2021-22, which represents a growth of 18% during a time of great disruption to schools and student learning.

For NAEP date referenced in this article see:  https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/NDE

Terry Ryan is CEO of Bluum and Ray Crowell is its Chief Innovation Officer.

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