New Education Dept. Statistics Beg Questions on Race, Ethnicity

Courtney Williams's picture
Friday, November 4, 2011

The U.S. Department of Education’s statistical and testing arm, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), released its latest “progress” report November 1st: The survey measuring fourth- and eighth-grade scores on the controversial National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, was billed as having found “significant” improvement for both grades in math and a slight improvement in reading — until one examines the numbers.

The Washington Times piece by Ben Wolfgang, reported that reading scores among fourth-graders “remained flat on the study’s 500-point scale,” results that overall fall far short of the proficiency standards set for 2014 in math, reading and science by the No Child Left Behind Act. This Act is currently being rewritten to provide waivers and other changes to accommodate its failure without admitting so outright.

But a graph depicting the just-released NAEP scores, published by Associated Press as percentage figures in the print edition of The Washington Times piece, shows at most, a 2-percent change in both subjects between 2009 and 2011. Note that there is always at least a 3-percent margin of error for such statistics, which tells us these numbers mean precisely — nothing.

And what of Asian minorities, which have historically done considerably better than whites, blacks or Hispanics? Scores for Asians were not broken out; the only mention from the NCES site is that they were unchanged — indicating that Asians are still doing better at the same comparative rate.

A New York Times report by journalist Sam Dillon cited the scores, too, showing the average fourth-grade math score as 241 on a scale of 500, up from 240 in 2009, when the last federal math and reading results were released. The average eighth-grade math score was 284, up from 283 two years ago. In reading, the average fourth-grade reading scores were unchanged from 2009, at 221. Eighth-grade reading scores this year came in at 265, compared with 264 in 2009.

According to the NCES’ own website: At grade 8, the average reading score in 2011 (on the 500-point scale), was a mere 5 points higher than in 1992. At grade 4, the average reading score in 2011 was 4 points higher than in 1992.

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