Are Flat Test Scores An Indictment Of Common Core?

Results show Georgia students’ scores were slightly below the national average in all areas.
Results show Georgia students’ scores were slightly below the national average in all areas.
Credit Pixabay

The National Center for Education Statistics issued scores for the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) on Tuesday. The math and reading results for grades 4 and 8 were flat when compared to 2015 scores.

Georgia students’ scores were slightly below the national average in all areas. In fourth-grade reading, 37 percent of students scored “proficient” nationally; just 35 percent of Georgia students achieved a “proficient” score. The only statistically significant score in Georgia is a 4-point increase in eighth-grade reading.

The stagnant performance raises questions about academic standards adopted in 2012. Georgia, and several other states, implemented the Common Core State Standards. Proponents said they would increase academic rigor and, eventually, student performance.

Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, says the Common Core may not be to blame for the lack of improvement.

“There has been some good scholarship done showing that the Great Recession, when it really had a good impact — a negative impact — on school spending, that did suppress student achievement,” he says.

Georgia schools endured years of “austerity cuts,” which began before the recession. This year, however, Gov. Nathan Deal fully funded public schools as part of his FY2019 budget.

As that kind of recovery continues, Petrilli says, performance should improve. Otherwise, he says, leaders may need to re-examine school policies.

“If it was the recession, and we can finally look at kids who were born after the recession and during the recovery, you know, we can’t use that excuse anymore,” Petrilli says. “And we should be seeing progress if schools are doing a better job teaching and learning.”

NCES Associate Commissioner Peggy G. Carr says NAEP isn’t designed to assess the Common Core.

“We’ve remained steady in what we measure because we’re the common yardstick over time,” Carr says. “So, we have not changed what we measure in our assessments or our framework.”

Despite flat scores for the past several years, Carr says, NAEP shows students have progressed over time.

“Students of every race and ethnicity, with reportable results, did show progress over the long haul, in comparison to the assessments when they were first administered in the 1990s,” she says.

Another possible reason for stagnant scores, Petrilli says, could be that some states didn’t fully enforce their accountability systems the past few years while transitioning from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). He says easing up on accountability for schools, leaders and teachers could have affected students’ performance.

Petrilli also points out a trend that may trouble Atlanta educators. Math scores for black and Latino students have steadily dropped the last four years.

“Atlanta is one of the few cities where you see some pretty significant declines among subgroups in math,” he says. “So, that should be something folks in Atlanta should be concerned about.”