The release last week of the results of the “nation’s report card” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) produced the usual commentary on the Texas scores, ranging from “glass half full” to “glass half empty”. My colleague Sandy Kress has prepared an insightful analysis of these results, after briefly covering a summary of where we have been with these scores over the past couple of decades of reform, and his concluding observations are as follows:
1. Reading gains are slender, though great effort has been exerted. The good news is that the new standards are better, and, by focusing more on vocabulary, content knowledge, and comprehension of complex text, we could accelerate the pace of gain.
2. The math gains are extraordinary, but they reflect mostly improved proficiency in arithmetic and lower level content. The ground is better prepared, but there’s still a steep climb ahead toward proficiency in algebra and beyond.
3. Pipeline effects are appearing in high school and post secondary success, but far too slowly and modestly. The ramping up of high school performance through full implementation of HB3 is absolutely essential, as is a new and dramatic effort to increase post secondary completion success.
4. Acknowledging the huge challenges that still remain is important, but the remarkable progress that has been made in the past 15 years must, at the same time, be recognized, honored, and built upon.
As for me, several points become fairly obvious: (1) we won’t see much progress in overall student achievement until we see much better results in the reading scores, (2) reading at the “basic” level is not good enough; we need much more proficiency, and (3) in analyzing the reading results and comparing Texas to other states, although we compare very favorably with them when the results are disaggregated by ethnicity, we shouldn’t use the demographics of our student population as an excuse for the subpar results or to lower our expectations for all students. The failure to read at grade level by the third grade has long been acknowledged as the single most important factor in the rate of non-completion of high school, and from a pedagogical standpoint we know how to fix this problem, but we have never really invested the resources and political capital to properly attack it. However, I am encouraged by places like Houston ISD, where there are plans for an aggressive, comprehensive district-wide literacy program, PreK-12. We need much more of this kind of initiative.
As to the overall reform effort, we have huge challenges ahead in maintaining momentum and, unfortunately, there are powerful forces at large who want to roll back much of our recent progress in standards and accountability even before they have been implemented in the schools, so we need all the help we can get.
The entirety of Sandy’s analysis along with other perspectives on Texas student performance and what we are attempting to do about it can be found on the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER) web site, www.texaseducationreform.org. And while you’re there, please click on the “donate” link and join in the effort.