National Assessment of Educational Regress? Double the Money, Smaller Classes, No Improvement.


Do government schools make students dumber?

The new results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out for U.S. high school seniors. And the results are, as usual, dismal. As the Washington Post reports:

Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, made public Thursday morning, document a modest rise in achievement for 12th-graders since 2005. Reading scores rose two points on a 500-point scale, and math scores rose three points on a 300-point scale.

But analysts said the federal test results offer plenty of reason for concern. The scores mean that 38 percent of seniors demonstrated proficiency in reading and 26 percent reached that level in math. Also, reading scores remain lower than they were in 1992. And the study found essentially no progress in closing achievement gaps that separate white students from black and Hispanic peers.

Plenty of reason for concern? Actually, it's even worse than the U.S. Department of Education admits here. A NAEP summary last year [PDF] reports that the average score on the reading test in 1971 was 285 points out of a possible 500 and that it rose all the way to 286 points by 2008.

The average on the mathematics test in 1973 was 304 out of a possible 500 and it rose  to 306 by 2008. Admittedly scores for the lower grades improved a bit more, but attending high school evidently washes out whatever good is done in elementary school.

Well, surely this must be evidence that the teachers unions are right that we have been miserly in providing funds needed to educate "the children." Well, no. As the Department of Education reports, average per pupil expenditures in real dollars more than doubled from $4,489 in 1971 to $10,041 in 2007.

OK, then maybe it's not the money. Aren't we cramming ever more kids into classrooms making it hard for teachers to give attention to students who are struggling? Again, the DOE reports that the public school teacher/pupil ratio fell from 22.3 students in 1970 to 15.5 in 2007.

Could it be that these dismal results are a function of what is largely a hidebound government monopoly on elementary and secondary education? Hmmm.

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70 responses to “National Assessment of Educational Regress? Double the Money, Smaller Classes, No Improvement.

  1. Or could it be that stupid people won’t magically become smart people, no matter how long you leave them in a school holding pen?

    1. You just don’t get it.

    2. Fluffy: But average IQs have been going up substantially while NAEP test scores have stagnated.

      1. Because the test designers are becoming more stupid.

        1. IQ test designers

      2. Average weight has been going up substantially while the weight of anorexics has stagnated.

    3. “”Or could it be that stupid people won’t magically become smart people, no matter how long you leave them in a school holding pen?””

      No one what’s to blame the stupid people since they are the students. We have an ass backwards idea that learning starts with teachers, not the students.

      Students don’t want to do their assignments or turn them in late losing points. Some prefer to spend more time figuring out how to cheat with a smart phone than solving for a variable.

      1. “”No one what’s to blame””

        No one wants to blame…

  2. Think this might cause the educators to recognize that their influence on a child’s education is overwhelmed by the influence of parents?

    1. Right. And pigs will fly.

      This will just lead to cries to “redouble our efforts.”

      1. They’re already busy redoubling their coffers for just such a case.

    2. They already realize that. It’s the argument they make any time a pay for performance plan is floated.

      1. And it’s largely true. If they ever do pass merit pay for teachers, I’m getting myself a job teaching in a largley asian area. It’s like free money.

        1. And if it’s largely true, then we can get Mexicans to do it for minimum wage.

    3. No, that sort of recognition does not get tax money thrown at the school system, as there is no government solution for it.

  3. Reading scores rose two points on a 500-point scale, and math scores rose three points on a 300-point scale.

    This would appear to lie with the error bars.

    1. Well…maybe. The N you take the square root of is the number of people taking the test, not the maximum of the scale. So the mean values may be distinguishable.

      However, as we have many years of data, we can build a null hypothesis of “the real value isn’t changing”, and compute the standard deviation of the mean scores on that basis, and that might be larger than the difference of the means rendering the experiment inconclusive at beat.

  4. “reports that the average score on the reading test in 1971 was 285 points out of a possible 500 and that it rose all the way to 286 points by 2008.”
    “The average on the mathematics test in 1973 was 304 out of a possible 500 and it rose to 306 by 2008”

    Gee, people just like to bitch.
    1973 or thereabouts was my cohort, and we were tie-dyed, long haired, hip gyrating, wild and crazy guys, who went on to be BMW buying yuppies, who invested in, bought real estate on margin cause they ain’t making any more of it, and invented boner medicines so we can still do it as old codgers….
    OH, I see your point!!! We’re doomed!

    1. On the other hand, some of us became Dilbert.

  5. Reading scores rose two points on a 500-point scale


    *raises arms above head, dances around room*

    1. Wasn’t that worth the extra hundreds of billions of dollars spent on education.

      1971 funding = 285

      1971 funding + hundreds of billions in added funding = 2008 funding = 286.


  6. This looks like a job for SuperGovernment!

    United States Department of Education

    Created by the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88) and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 17, 1979, it began operating on May 16, 1980.

    From the Budget Office?U.S. Department of Education

    ED currently administers a budget of $63.7 billion in FY 2010 discretionary appropriations (including discretionary Pell Grant funding) and $96.8 billion in discretionary funding provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

    Getting your money’s worth?

    I’d kiss Congress’s collective ass at high noon in Times Square if they eliminated all of the useless at best, arguably counterproductive, Department of Education’s funding.

  7. 15.5 students per teacher now? Good lord that’s tiny. I seem to remember my classes in the 1980s and 90s as having from 20-30 students from elementary all the way through graduation.

    Also, how does this jibe with giant lecture halls in college that contain 100s of students?

    1. I’m thinking we’re talking about K-12 class sizes.

      1. The point being that some how, at college, information is delivered to large numbers at once and it works. Why not at (somewhat) lower grades?

        1. Because most college students want to be there and are paying for it themselves (whether that default on their loans is another matter)as opposed to being required to be there and on someone else’s dime.

          1. “Because most college students want to be there and are paying for it themselves”

            If you are going to make statements like that, warn people who might be drinking while reading.

            You’ve never taught college.

        2. Ummm…..because all grade schoolers come from impoverished minority neighborhoods and can’t pay attention in a larger class setting because they didn’t eat a good breakfast and their parents are smoking drugs?

  8. How can it be that our Effete Elite Educrat class are not compelled to commit ritual suicide on the Washington Mall when they are demonstrably this useless?

    America, I am disappoint.

  9. Yeah, but just think how much worse it would be without the DoE.

    *crickets chirping, tumbleweed rolling, and someone in the audience politely coughs*

    1. Haha, of course. No matter how bad of a failure any program is, the statists will always, always be able to say, “It would be worse without us!”

      1. Actually, no, they aren’t always able to say that.

        1. Ouch!

  10. Ah ha! This means we need to spend more money!

  11. Have the NAEP results been corrected for Simpson’s paradox? For instance, are the reading results corrected for the number of non-native speakers?

    What are the results for individual groups?

    1. The tests have been dumbed down since the 70’s, so the scores being almost exactly the same is a bad thing.

    2. stuartl, an excerpt from the NAEP site:

      “Frequently Asked Questions

      Overview of The Nation’s Report Card
      What subjects does NAEP assess, and how are the subjects chosen?
      How many students participate?
      How has the demographic distribution of students change between 1990 or 1992 (when the trend lines started) and 2009?
      How are students with disabilities and English language learners included in the NAEP assessments?
      What testing accommodations does NAEP offer?
      How can I look at sample questions from the assessment?
      How are results reported?
      How can a score change be significant for one group, but similar or larger change not be significant for another group?
      Is participation in NAEP voluntary?
      Are the data confidential?
      Does NAEP report individual or school-level scores?
      How has the 2009 reading framework changed?

      State Results
      What information is available on individual state performance?
      How are state tests different from NAEP?

      Trial Urban District Assessment
      What is the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment?
      How many districts participate each year, and how are they chosen?
      How do the samples for the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) contribute to state results?
      What are “large cities” and why are they used as a point of comparison?

      What subjects does NAEP assess, and how are the subjects chosen?
      Since its inception in 1969, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments have been conducted in numerous academic subjects, including the arts, civics, economics, geography, mathematics, reading, science, U.S. history, and writing.

      Beginning with the 2003 assessments, national assessments are conducted at least once every two years in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8. Results from these assessments are released six months after administration. The assessments are conducted in reading and mathematics in the same year, and initial results are released in the fall of that year. Results from all other assessments are released about one year after administration, usually in the spring of the following year.

      Since 1988, the National Assessment Governing Board has been responsible for selecting the subject areas to be assessed. Furthermore, the Governing Board oversees creation of the frameworks that underlie the assessments and the specifications that guide the development of the assessment instruments. The framework for each subject area is determined through a collaborative development process that involves teachers, curriculum specialists, subject-matter specialists, school administrators, parents, and members of the general public.

      Back to Top

      How many students participate?
      The NAEP assessments are administered to samples of students rather than the entire national, state, or district populations. Each assessment, based on its design, samples different numbers of students. For instance, approximately 168,800 fourth-graders from 9,500 schools, 161,700 eighth-graders from 7,030 schools, and 48,900 twelfth-graders from 1,670 schools participated in the 2009 mathematics assessment. Approximately 178,800 fourth-grade students from 9,530 schools, 160,900 eighth-grade students from 7,030 schools, and 51,700 students from 1,670 schools participated in the 2009 reading assessment.

      See the number of schools and students that participated in the recent NAEP assessments:

      Long-term trend
      Mathematics at the national, state and district levels
      Reading at the national, state and district levels
      Science at the national, state, and district levels
      U.S. history
      Writing at the national, and at the state and district levels

      See more information about the sample sizes and target populations for the recent NAEP assessments:

      Long-term trend
      Mathematics at the national, state and district level
      Reading at the national, state and district level
      Science at the national and state levels and at the district level
      U.S. history
      Writing at the national, state, and district levels
      Back to Top

      How has the demographic distribution of students changed between 1990 or 1992 (when the trend lines started) and 2009?
      The proportion of Hispanic students has more than doubled between the early 1990s and 2009. At the same time, the proportion of White students has decreased from approximately three-quarters of the population to less than two-thirds. See the NAEP Data Explorer for complete data on changes in the student distribution.

      Back to Top

      How are students with disabilities and English language learners included in the NAEP assessments?
      The NAEP program has always endeavored to assess all students selected as a part of its sampling process. In all NAEP assessments, accommodations are provided as necessary for students with disabilities(SD) and/or English language learners (ELL).

      Inclusion in NAEP of an SD or ELL student is encouraged if that student (a) participated in the regular state academic assessment in the subject being tested, and (b) if that student can participate in NAEP with the accommodations NAEP allows. Even if the student did not participate in the regular state assessment, or if he/she needs accommodations NAEP does not allow, school staff are asked whether that student could participate in NAEP with the allowable accommodations. (Examples of testing accommodations not allowed in NAEP are giving the reading assessment in a language other than English, or reading the reading passages aloud to the student. Also, extending testing over several days is not allowed for NAEP because NAEP administrators are in each school only one day.)

      Although every effort is made to include as many students as possible, different jurisdictions have different exclusion policies, and those policies may have changed over time. Because SD and ELL students typically score lower than students not categorized as SD or ELL, jurisdictions that are more inclusive?that is, jurisdictions that assess greater percentages of these students?may have lower average scores than if they had a less inclusive policy.”

      Also, students who are Special Ed or ELLs are allowed to use the accommodations provided for them in their IEP/504/EPP, so no adjustments are considered necessary. However, from the statement above, it appears that NAEP acknowledges that larger testing districts with greater numbers of SpEd/ELL students will skew the results to be lower. I took a look at the available numbers and did not see anything that specifically broke out the districts with larger numbers of exceptional students included in the NAEP assessment, but it was only a quick look. NAEP is difficult to data-mine and I don’t have the time or inclination right now to do it – it brings back nightmares of a past job I’d rather forget.

      I can tell you anecdotally, reading in general is an activity in which kids do not readily engage any longer. I am not just talking about reading for pleasure or for learning/insight/literary education. A lot of communication has been reduced to signs, LEET, texting shorthand, sound bites, tweets and FB posts, none of which really require deep reading skills.

      Perhaps the test needs to evolve to reflect the reality of what students know. Yes, it will likely dumb-down the test and it serves the LCD of the student population, but the best way to improve scores is to make the test easier. I’m only half joking about this; making the test easier has been a general trend in educational testing for the past several years (decades, probably). It comes under many guises: anti-bias test questions, new-math oriented questions, gender equity in testing, non-eurocentric testing…either way, the questions being written are getting easier to answer in many cases.

      1. oops, I only meant to copy a small portion of the FAQ page, sorry for posting the whole thing.

        preview…righty oh.

        1. What is this “preview” of which you speak?

          1. I think you have to pay to use it. That’s why my posts are usually filled with typos, misspellings grammatical errors, erroneous statements of fact and SugarFreed links.

            I’m frugal!

      2. ” . . .the best way to improve scores is to make the test easier.” And they’ve been doing this for decades yet the scores either get worse or have plateaued. It’s much, much worse than they want to admit or the public at large realizes. Not only have they steadily dumbed down the tests in an attempt to cover up how badly students are doing, teachers are also expending large swaths of classroom time teaching the tests in hopes of bringing up scores. I’m talking months of the school year devoted to test preparation. I personally witnessed this in elementary schools in Florida in the late 90s.


    sample reading question for grade 12 test

  13. but attending high school evidently washes out whatever good is done in elementary school.

    When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all. And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall.

    1. it gives such nice bright colors

    2. I feel like I’m not as fucked up as I could be because I simply didn’t give a shit.

      Public schooling showed me early on that they didn’t give a shit about me or my education, so as I went on through, I didn’t give a shit about it either.

      I was the only child in the history of school who never had homework from about 3rd grade on.

  14. OK, statists, which standard defense ya gonna roll with?

    –Dept of Education budget too small?
    –failure of the free market?
    –Bush’s fault?
    –that sinful rock ‘n’ roll music these crazy kids listen to nowadays dagnabbit?

    1. Students have given up because they know that no matter how much they study they won’t be able to overcome the UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH.

      Student despair. That’s the ticket.

      1. Yeah I have to admit, this was also the one I thought they had left. They would cite this, and claim education spending is geared towards schools in high-income neighborhoods while shortchanging kids in poor neighborhoods.

        1. From one of my local newsrags:…..schoo.html

          Well, duh. Kids from better socioeconomic backgrounds tend to do better in school. More involved/better educated parents who have high expectations and the mental/financial resources to help their kids.

          The article cites a superintendent, with whom I am intimately familiar, seeking private donations for netbooks for the impoverished kids in the district, to equalize the opportunities for poor kids. I am not opposed to this in general, since the donations would be from private business and/or private citizens.

          However, you can only equalize some of the financial limiters in this equation. You cannot improve the intelligence or education or language proficiency of a parent, or make them get involved in a child’s education if they see no value in education, or ask them to reinforce what the child has learned if the parent has not learned it him/herself.

  15. I was thinking about school teachers just this morning. The morning news had a story about a new Chik-Fil-A. The guy in the cow suit with the sign “Eat Mor Chikin” reminds me of footage I always see at teacher strikes, rallies, etc.: fat cows holding badly misspelled signs.

  16. Yet another example of, to steal the line mentioned in a linked article here on H&R a few weeks back on high speed rail: Yet more fashionable make believe (higher teacher salaries and lower class size = better educated students).

    But, it’s no surprise that folks can’t figure it out….they’re too ill educated to look at the EVIDENCE and the facts and figures and figure out that more money doesn’t necessarily equal a better K-12 education system.

  17. Dep’t of Education is a complete waste, but what really scares me is how the teachers don’t seem to understand the nature of their job. IWent to my daughter’s schoool this morning to meet the teachers. When I spoke with her English teacher, I expressed concern about her inability to spell. The English teacher said it did not matter–seems that most kids can’t spell these days, and she did not know why. Did not seem to have any clue that I pay her to teach the kids to spell.

    1. I was a HS English teacher until this past June. Children do not know how to spell, because it seems to be neglected or at least not stressed at the grammar school level.

      In some cases, spelling is not considered vital because online dictionaries, spell-check, and general acceptance of errors are encouraged by administrators and teachers. Not by all teachers or in all districts, mind, but it’s considered pedantic and demoralizing to constantly correct a child’s spelling errors; reading more and being exposed tangentially to words will improve their spelling.

      Phonemic awareness (the knowledge that letters represent sounds) is something children get when they are read to, but phonics (knowing which letters make which sounds and under what circumstances) takes some hands-on teaching. Phonics is taught in most districts in my state of NJ (as opposed to whole-language), but again, the emphasis does not seem to be on repetition and ingraining the concept. When I was in grammar school, spelling and phonics were taught alongside each other. I am not certain that is the case any longer (I also attended private Catholic schools, which had a different curricular structure from the public schools, so maybe I am out of touch).

      Also, many more kids are in daycare and preschool than anytime in the past decade or so. The emphasis in many daycare settings is on creative play, sharing/socialization skills, and community activities – none of which are detrimental in and of themselves. However, the creative curriculum becomes the sum total of a child’s day; they have stories read to them, but are not encouraged (sometimes, outright not permitted) to learn ABCs and 123s, or to recognize that letters=sounds=words. My daughter was too young for a structured academic curriculum before I pulled her out of daycare at 18 months old, and now I teach her at home and she is doing very well with recognition of symbols for sounds and numbers, etc. My sister teaches in a creative-curriculum daycare center and has been reprimanded for trying to teach the kids their ABCs and 123s, or anything beyond movement, singing, dance, creative play, and multicultural awareness.

      Perhaps we are waiting too long to plant the seeds, or perhaps parents are relying too much on daycare/school to do ALL of the teaching, when some reinforcement at home or in other environments (i.e., demonstrating that learning and knowledge do not only happen nor are they only required in the classroom) is necessary.

      1. “”perhaps parents are relying too much on daycare/school to do ALL of the teaching””

        There it is!

        It’s easier to blame teachers than yourself.

        1. Is there any reason we can’t blame parents and teachers.

          1. Given the representatives of the teacher’s unions have laid claim to nearly mystical powers of instruction on the part of their members, I think we must.

            Also known as “Don’t let you mouth write checks your talents can’t cash.”

      2. When I taught composition at university, I told all of my students that it wasn’t my job to teach them how to spell (because they should have either A) learned how to spell shit long ago, or B) should know by now how to use the tools necessary to spell words correctly), but also told them it was a pet peeve to see misspelled words and I would come down on them hard during grading.

        The most common response?

        But what if spell check misses it?

        1. When I taught introductory physics at the university level (to a class with >80% premeds, none the less) I determined to have a “no calculator” rules for tests. This takes some care as you have to arrange the input figures to insure that there is never a “hard” bit of arithmetic.

          More than half the class could not extract the square root of 25.

          I gave up. They were allowed calculators from then on.

          OK, so that is not integral to understanding physics. Fine. But those same kids could not be relied upon to estimate the size of the answer they should get, and accordingly never had a “this is stupid” moment that allowed them to catch egregious errors. And that did limit their ability to develop as quantitative scientists.

        2. I cannot believe you were told that. Is not a part of good writing the ability to effectively proofread?

  18. The dumbing down has little to do with statism or unions.
    When I went to college in the US (had attended 2ary school in Europe) I skipped the first year of physics and took advanced calculus, not because I was a genius but because US high school standards were so low that they were teaching college freshmen what I had been taught in high school. That was in the 80s, and at that time Europeans laughed at US educational standards.

    The thing is, it was not a US problem but a trend that originated in the US, as many progressive policies do. And in the past 20 yrs the same has happened in Europe, scores are artificially going up to such an extent that universities cannot gauge who are the better students, while the rate of functional illiteracy is rising. And pouring money will not solve it, because it is a cultural problem.

  19. Speaking from my experience as a product of public schooling and as a round peg who just could not be made to fit into their square hole, public schooling is an abomination. That being said and assuming we are not talking about those schools which are essentially war zones where no one could reasonably be expected to succeed, at what point does the onus to succeed fall on the student and the parents? If you want to do well in math, you do your homework and you study. If you want to do well in chemistry, you do the same things. and so on.

    I was an abject failure in public school by every possibly measure. Miraculously, I discovered, when I managed to make it into college, that if I studied hard and made an effort to understand the subjects, viola, I succeeded. I was motivated to succeed and so I succeeded. I was motivated by the fact that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life mopping floors or washing cars for minimum wage.

    Any kid who is motivated to succeed in school can succeed (again, with caveat that the environment is not entirely hostile to success.) The kids are not motivated to succeed and that is a problem with them and with their families and the culture. Kids live with the delusion they are all going to be Fitty Cent or Britney. It doesn’t matter what sort of new fangled approach you take or how much you threaten or reward the teachers. If the kid is not interested in succeeding in school, he will not. It is not more complicated than that.

    Compared to lives of their heroes they see on TV, school is incredibly boring and tedious. Actual work and effort is boring and tedious. They don’t see the upside to it.

    Although I am not a fan of public schools, I’m proud to say my son graduated as valedictorian of his class. He struggled in the early grades because he was slow getting his assignments done and so on. But, unlike myself, he received boatloads of encouragement and gained confidence in himself instead of being hammered into the wrong shaped hole as I was. If all parents would make this same investment in their kids, we would not have this issue. This is where you end up when you look to the state as the source of your fulfillment.

  20. I think the photo holds a clue. There was once a time when being the dunce was shameful.

  21. The roots of the USAs learning problems run deep.

    The Leipzig Connection

    The Seven Deadly Principles

  22. I taught JH for a few years. In my opinion the biggest problem is that the kids who want to learn simply aren’t able to when a large fraction of the students are actively disruptive. I got lucky, in that my hideous appearance is intimidating enough that a sharp word or glance would put them in line. However, for most teachers, that’s simply not an option. When the parents don’t give a shit, the only way for most teachers to keep the kids in line is with the paddle. Bring back the paddle, and watch the scores rise (bonus: paddles are cheap).

  23. EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy in his post above raises an excellent point.

    I studied for my degree in one of the hard sciences from 1970 to 1975 at the beginning of which the slide rule was the computational instrument choice for availability and portability. Proficiency in the use of this instrument was a necessity, no ifs ands or buts.

    The thing about slide rules is that its answer only gives the value of the most significant digits, AND THE DECIMAL POINT MUST BE CORRECTLY PLACED BY THE USER! In other words the user had to have a good idea of the magnitude of the answer before doing his calculations on the slide rule.

    This ability, in my opinion, is most valuable in sorting out reasonable answers from ridiculous answers, and the use of calculators and computers at an early age prevents this development of “judgement of reasonableness”.

    A friend of mine, also in my discipline, laments this lack of judgement among his new colleagues who can produce excellent power point presentations and stacks of computer print-outs. But when it comes to one-line summaries or interpretations it is restricted to “the computer says this”, without any ability to test whether the answer is reasonable or not.

    Perhaps this is a major reason for so many nonsensical governmental and business decisions???

  24. You can’t change biology.

    Well, you can change the ethnic composition of a country, and then, I suppose, scratch your head at the results.

  25. So, you’re saying that we need more slants, then?

  26. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

    This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our teaching tactics with real life projects.

    Alan Cook

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