Why does Alabama always land at the bottom of the list for National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results?
Scores and ranking for 2015 were released late last year, and once again, Alabama found itself near the bottom in the four areas in which the NAEP produces a ranking. The low ranking is not confined to any one racial, ethnic, and ability level, though some demographic groups are lower than others.
Is it a lack of funding? Maybe a lack of appropriately allocating funding to what positively impacts student achievement most?
Is it that Alabama’s children don’t have the genetic material to learn and then score well on tests?
Is it that education isn’t valued by Alabama’s families?
Most folks simply say “it’s poverty” and let it go at that. But blaming it on poverty while keeping the same policy and regulatory framework in place hasn’t been an effective way of improving NAEP scores over the years, has it?
When I came across the Urban Institute’s study adjusting 2013 NAEP scores based on demographics of students and other factors, and found where Florida and Texas are doing much better than the simple ranking indicates, I hoped to see Alabama climb the ranks, too.
Spoiler alert: Alabama’s place in the ranks stayed exactly the same even after the adjustment.
One bright spot was that from from 2003 to 2013 (NAEP is administered every other year, so that’s five test years’ worth of time), Alabama’s students made 6.5 months’ worth of learning improvement (rather than 5.9 months as indicated by raw scores) when adjusted for “how much more scores have increased than would have been expected based on changes in demographics”.
That bright spot dims, though, when looking at other states’ growth adjusted in the same way, as Alabama falls from 17th highest growth to 38th highest growth. Growth is good, but why are other states’ scores growing faster?
Given the ranking of states, and where Alabama’s children find themselves, what impact does this have on students’ ability to gain college acceptance or enter a career and become a productive citizen able to care for their families…particularly if they have the desire to move and work somewhere outside of Alabama?
Given the incredible success of Alabama’s athletic programs, both at the high school and college levels, what is keeping us from having that same success in academics?
Demographics considered in the Urban Institute’s study include racial composition, eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, whether the child is in special education, age, and grade. It’s a not-too-complicated statistical model, and for those who are interested, it appears in in Appendix B in the paper.
NAEP is considered the gold standard of tests, having been first given in 1969. Full results can be reviewed in the NAEP Data Explorer.