The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed Ohio inching forward on academic achievement with the exception of two measures that set the state apart: gaps widened between black and white students on two tests.
The Ohio Department of Education responded with concern and a statement that the need for the new third-grade reading guarantee is even more critical.
“The results of the NAEP scores were pretty stagnant. And we need to start moving up. And I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of reforms here in Ohio,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
Ohio is the only state where the reading gap between fourth-grade black and white students widened in the past two years.
Over the past 10 years, Ohio and Wisconsin are the only two states where reading gaps between black and white students have widened, according to the NAEP results.
The numbers run counter to state proficiency tests, which show the gap shrinking by more than 20 percent in that time.
However, the two methods of testing provide different results.
NAEP provides an average score on an academic skills test for a sample of students in the entire country.
NAEP testing is most comparable to the tests that will be used as a part of the Common Core standards that are effective in Ohio next year.
Proficiency tests are administered to all Ohio students to assess how many have reached a minimum level of academic skill. The minimum is established at the state level and isn’t easily compared with other states.
The department reacted to the widening performance gap by saying its effort to improve reading skills in the early grades will be the key to success. Beginning this May, third-graders will be held back if they are not proficient in reading.
The department said that Florida, which pioneered the third-grade reading guarantee, was successful in closing the gap between black and white readers.
State leaders made a point of noting one particular NAEP statistic: 29 percent of fourth-graders do not read at the proficient level.
“This is why the third-grade reading guarantee is so important. It is imperative that students can read on a third-grade level or higher when they complete third grade,” said state Superintendent Richard Ross in a news release.
Ross didn’t note that the 29 percent figure is still better than 28 other states.
Interpreting the results of the national tests can be tricky, one expert says.
“What happens, inevitably, is we’ll release these results and all the policy folks now will start to argue their particular favorite education policy. Rarely can these cross-sectional descriptive statistics be conclusive,” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP test.
“I think he’s right,” said Charlton, of the Ohio Department of Education. “I think it’s too early to determine what the 2013 results mean. With that being said, I’m not talking about one year’s results or two years’ results. I’m looking back over a 10-year period and saying reading in Ohio has not increased any or improved any. In fact, if you compare us to the national average, the national average has gone up and we have not.”
Twenty-eight states have “significantly” improved reading scores for fourth-graders in the past decade. Ohio is not one of them.
That’s a negative observation. On the positive side, Ohio is among 10 states, mostly from the northeast, that beat the national average in all tested grades and subjects, according to Thursday’s results.
Data can be dangerous, Buckley said, if not examined over a lengthy period.
“I hesitate and I always try to warn people against drawing conclusions about any particular education policy,” Buckley said. “We try to stay pretty agnostic and not be tied to anybody’s reforms. … In the previous administration, everyone wanted to use NAEP results to say that No Child Left Behind was working or maybe not working, depending on how they interpreted them. Here we’re getting a lot of questions about what does this say about Race to the Top or the Common Core.”
Nonetheless, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used the results to support Common Core standards, which are being implemented in most of the states.
“While progress on the NAEP continues to vary among the states, all eight states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement in at least one of the Reading and/or Mathematics assessments from 2009 to 2013 — and none of the eight states had a decline in scores,” Duncan said in a statement.
Buckley expects these assertions. The same happened in the spring when states spun test data to support Common Core, even if test scores dropped.
“If they had implemented the Common Core already and they saw their state test scores go up, they claimed that as evidence that Common Core worked,” Buckley said.
“If they had implemented Common Core assessment already and they saw their scores go down, they said that this was evidence that their state test was no longer aligned to the Common Core and couldn’t be treated as a reliable measure anymore. When I look at it, it’s pretty hard to have that both ways.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.