By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow
On April 10th, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and advocates, including members of SBOE staff and Representative Wattenberg, gathered together to celebrate the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, known as the Nation’s Report Card. The biennial assessment is considered one of the most reliable measures of student achievement for elementary and secondary students in the U.S.
The morning started with Dr. Peggy Carr, Acting Commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, discussing the transition to digital based assessments (DBAs) and the results of the 2017 NAEP assessment. Nationwide, significant gains were only seen in 8th grade reading since 2015. For the most part, DC is on par with national averages and has remained stagnant since 2015. However, the data delivered is useless without context; this was provided through three panels on the state perspective, literacy, and TUDA.
The first panel introduced education leaders from Wyoming, Department of Defense Education Activity, California, and Florida, moderated by Kentucky’s former Commissioner of Ed Terry Holliday. These high performing NAEP states shared their state’s strategies to educational achievement. Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, highlighted accountability as integral to their improvement. On the other hand, Wyoming Superintendent Jillian Balow emphasized equal and high distributions of funds as well as a recognition of what it means to be equitable to students of all abilities, races, gender, and rural vs. urban. All praised their home states for the work being done on the ground to make their classrooms a great place to be.
As literacy informs a student’s ability to do work in many other classes, the second panel was dedicated to discuss early intervention in literacy. Our panelists came from many different sectors and backgrounds; for instance, Marilyn Adams, a female researcher from Brown University, and Ian Rowe, an African American practitioner from NYC. Despite such different contexts, the panel shared a cohesive message. Instead of giving low performing students boring text on their proficiency level, students should go through a “productive struggle”, as one panelist put it. This means better written content in subjects that students care about. Students need to read stories that are challenging, but not hard enough that they give up. Another key aspect of literacy, according to panelist Daniel Willingham from UVA, is that “what kids know about the topic of a text is a key determinant of reading comprehension.” By continuing high expectations and giving kids material they care about, students will be able to pick up more skills and move to grade level faster.
The afternoon was spent on an engaging panel discussing the Trial Urban District Assessments (TUDA) results. The results found that the gains in large cities outpace the national average on the whole in fourth and eighth grades. Furthermore, district officials from Miami, Austin, San Diego, and Chicago, all areas that significantly outperformed the national average, were all present to discuss the reasons behind their success. A major focus was on shrinking achievement gaps, especially considering Dr. Carr’s earlier remarks on how some narrowing gaps were due to a decline in white student’s scores rather than an upward trend for students of color. For these districts, it comes down to leadership. Recruiting and developing great talent straight from local universities and beyond to policy offices and principalships and classrooms allow these districts to create a community invested in students and excited about learning. The passion and drive for their students was evident in the leaders’ voices and actions.
NAEP and TUDA data will continue to inform SBOE’s work and challenge us to move out of stagnation and into a new era of possibilities for the District’s children