Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities - The New York Times

Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities - The New York Times:

Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities

For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by theEducation Department on Wednesday.
The decline appeared in both Grades 4 and 8 in an exam administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and sometimes called “the nation’s report card.”
The dip in scores comes as the country’s employers demand workers with ever-stronger skills in mathematics to compete in a global economy. It also comes as states grapple with the new Common Core academic standards and a rebellion against them.
Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools.
“It’s obviously bad news,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of theThomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. “We don’t want to see scores going in this direction.”
“That doesn’t mean we should completely freak out,” he added. “This could be a one-time variation, and maybe we’ll see things come back next time. But if it were the beginning of a new trend, it would be quite disappointing and disturbing.”
Education officials said that the first-time decline in math scores was unexpected, but that it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade’s guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.
The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America’s schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers.
“It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to first see a slight decline before you see improvement,” said William J. Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policies and achievement levels for the tests.
About a quarter of public school students are Hispanic, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1990. As a group, the scores of Hispanic students trail those of white students; this year, for example, 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at a level deemed proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.
The proportion of African-American students in public schools has remained fairly stable, but an achievement gap with white students remains. On the fourth-grade reading tests this year, just 18 percent of black students were deemed proficient.
America’s schoolchildren are also increasingly poor. Students from poor families often arrive at school with smaller vocabularies than students from middle-class or more affluent households, and are faced with challenges like hunger, homelessness and parents working several jobs, all of which can interfere with their learning in school and the academic support they receive at home — and ultimately their test scores.
Arne Duncan, the departing secretary of education, said schools should embrace the challenges of growing diversity. A study this week showed that student demographics can affect test scores. “We should be learning from each other and schools who are doing the best job with students with disabilities and English language learners and students living below the poverty line,” Mr. Duncan said.
The average fourth-grade math score this year was 240 on a scale of 500, down from 242 in 2013, the last time the federal assessment results were released. The average eighth-grade math score was 282, down from 285 two years ago.
In reading, the average fourth-grade score of 223, compared with 222 in 2013, was not a statistically significant difference. The average eighth-grade score fell to 265 from 268.
No state or any of the 21 urban school districts that participated in the tests raised scores in both subjects and grade levels. But the District of Columbia repeated some of the strength it showed in 2013 by raising fourth-grade Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities - The New York Times: