Earlier this month, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores for the 2017 were released. This biannual test is considered the “Nation’s Report Card” as an objective barometer of the state of our schools across the country. And the results shine a light on the vast disparities in the quality of education for Latinos and Els, and other student groups.
HEALTH, WEALTH AND NOW EDUCATION… THE GAP WIDENS BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS
Many reports on the NAEP have highlighted the averages that, largely, remain the same. However, this is a “false flat” that masks a glaring issue.
Since the last administration of the test in 2015, the scores for low-performing students dropped and those of high-performing students rose. English Learners (ELs), Latinos, Black, and other minority students are disproportionally represented in the lower-performing group.
Since our nations’ schools are now majority-minority, meaning Latino and Black children make up most of the school population, a steadily increasing number of students are not being served nearly well enough by their schools. Over half of our children will not be prepared to get good jobs or contribute to their local communities unless we invest more in supporting Latino and Black students. Direct efforts to address achievement gaps for students of color and low-income students must become the priority in every state.
MIXED RESULTS FOR LATINOS
Across all three levels—fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade assessments—national averages for Latinos fell. In 2015, twelfth grade Latino students finally rose to basic achievement level. But with a two-percentage point fall on the most recent assessment, Latino twelfth graders once again scored below basic. Because these students have been woefully unprepared by their schools they will face uncertain futures in pursuing postsecondary education and career options.
While reading scores were slightly better with slight increases in 4th and 8th grade—one and two percentage points, respectively—none of the changes are statistically significant. What’s more, the scores still place Latino performance hovering just above basic and far from proficiency.
CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM FOR ENGLISH LEARNERS
There may be good news for ELs. In both reading and math, there were some increases in the averages. Eighth and 12th grade reading averages rose three percentage points and the 12th grade math average rose six percentage points. Both the eighth grade reading and 12th grade math changes are statistically significant.
Still, the results must be looked at cautiously. Despite the positive change from 2015 on many of these tests, they are still below peak averages from the past. For both fourth grade reading and eighth grade math there was no change in the average, and fourth grade math scores fell one percentage point. All except fourth grade math averages are far below basic achievement, and even that score hovers at basic. There is still much work to be done for ELs.
WHAT MUST BE DONE
We must vigorously renew our commitment to equity in education. All schools, districts and states should be held accountable to the same high standards without waivers or lapses in accountability. They must commit to best practices that serve our community of students. The needs of all students, not just certain groups of students, must be the priority.
There are many opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for stronger accountability, and support for educators. However, the current administration has stalled the implementation of several key accountability issues and approved state plans that run the risk of allowing more students to graduate from high school unprepared for college or career.
Strong accountability systems that focus on equity lead to positive outcomes. We must use accountability systems as a tool to close the persistent, and growing gaps, that we continue to see in the NAEP scores and other measures of achievement.
As a nation we must commit to a course of action that ensures NAEP scores rise and long-term outcomes improve, in 2019 and for years to come.
By Rebeca L. Shackleford, Education Policy Analyst, UnidosUS