The word is out. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, is a standardized test given to a random sampling of students in 4th, 8th and 12th grades around the country. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, the tests are administered by the federal government and are the largest national sampling of what American students know and can do in reading and math. The test has been given for 23 years though there was a major framework change made in the math test in 2005. In 2015, approximately 13,200 students were assessed in mathematics and 18,700 students in reading.  With everyone being about four years into the implementation of common core curriculum which was built around the supposedly superior set of math and ELA standards that would make all children college and career ready, we would expect to see NAEP scores on the rise. However, the exact opposite is the case and the achievement gap is widening.

NAEP test scores show decline in both math and reading in 12th grade (though the reading drop is not statistically significant.)  Math scores dropped two whole percentage points from 39% being college ready in 2013 to 37% in 2015.  What grew in the last two years was the fraction of students scoring below basic: up from 25% to 28% in reading, and 35% to 38% in math. There were no statistically significant changes for high performing students either up or down in either subject.

You can see on NAEP’s charts that the nation was on an upward trajectory just prior to the introduction of Common Core. Since that time, the scores have been trending downward.  Given the hype of common core, these are not the results we would expect.

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Students who achieved an average score in math could  to use proportions to calculate height, but were unable to determine cost after multiple discounts (calculator available).

An average student in the reading portion of the test could explain the author’s use of a story element to convey character’s feelings, but was unable to recognize details that were related to the purpose of the text.

ALEC  noted in October of last year “[T]he fact is decades of increased federal and state spending on education have had very little effect on students’ test scores. Federal spending under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ostensibly intended to improve test scores and narrow achievement gaps, has tripled in real dollars since the 1960s, when it was first enacted.”

Today’s federal spending on education is down from its high of approximately $95b in 2006 to $69b last year. You can see from the USDED chart below that a little over half of that money goes to college loans and special education.  Twenty one percent goes to Title I funds which are designed to help poor and struggling students reduce the achievement gap.

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The remaining 23% are used on programs such as “expansion of access to high-quality preschool, data-driven instruction based on college- and career-ready standards, making college more affordable, and mitigating the effects of poverty on educational outcomes.” In addition, the administration has continued its Race To The Top program.

The most recent RTT-Opportunity provided $300m to grantees for programs such as Preschool for All effort; improving support for teachers and school leaders; helping schools to improve safety; increasing college affordability and success, and other efforts to increase equity of opportunity.

The administration loves to talk about increasing college attendance. The report they reference in the RTT-O document talks about the lifetime salary benefits of a college degree and predicts that “three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require education and training beyond a high school diploma.”  They also claim that, “By 2020, an estimated two-thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education or training.” Here is where they could use some help themselves in “recognizing details that are related to the purpose of the text.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth in various business sectors and also notes what level of education is required for most fields. In 2022 they project a total of approximately 155,706 million jobs. Of those, 62% are  expected to only require up to a high school diploma. Another 7% will require some college, but not a full degree. That does not equal 66% of jobs requiring post secondary education. In fact, BLS data indicate that only 21% of jobs by 2022 will require an associates or bachelors degree.

The claim that 3/4 of the fastest growing occupations will require training beyond high school does not mean that 3/4 of the job applicants nationally will need a postsecondary degree. This fact is not germane to the purpose of the report which was to promote college education in general.  Not everyone is expected to go into those fast growing fields. Meanwhile almost 40% of the federal education budget is dedicated to providing college student loans to get more kids to enter college and the RTT-O grant money is designed to help them complete their degree. The numbers in the USDEd report don’t match up with what the USBLS is saying.

Then again, the USDED also told us Common Core was going to help make more kids ready for college, reduce remediation rates and reduce the performance gap. We probably shouldn’t believe their degree projections  either.

The bad news is NAEP scores are trending downward meaning kids are less prepared for college level work than they were a few years ago. The good news is most of the jobs they could be applying for in the future won’t require the time and expense for such a degree anyway.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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