Missouri students scored about as well as Illinois students but trailed their peers in Kansas on a national math and reading assessment, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Tuesday.
Scores on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress – known colloquially as NAEP and sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card – remained steady, with Missouri fourth and eighth graders doing about as well as they did in 2015.
Unlike state assessments that measure whether students are meeting Missouri’s standards and expectations, NAEP is “a snapshot of a point in time,” says Nancy Bowles, spokeswoman for DESE. “It’s given every two years in two subjects, reading and math, for two grades, fourth and eighth grade.”
Only about 2,300 students take the NAEP exam, out of 900,000 Missouri schoolchildren. The same schools are often selected cyclically because NAEP looks for a representative sampling of students. DESE considers the test it administers, the Missouri Assessment Program, to be the more accurate evaluation of how schools and students are doing.
“Everyone wants to know how their local schools are performing and not necessarily comparing Missouri with other states,” Bowles says. “The whole idea of a national assessment is difficult at this point because so many states do have their own standards, and they vary in the rigor and number of expectations.”
At the behest of the General Assembly, DESE has shifted away from the Common Core State Standards in favor of expectations developed by Missouri educators.
Even states like Kansas that made small gains in 2017 downplayed the significance of NAEP in favor of state assessments. A news release from the Kansas Department of Education described the slight gains eighth graders made on the NAEP math test as “nothing statistically significant.”
Whenever NAEP results come out, education think tanks tend to use them to prove whatever policy point their organization tries to make. The pro-charter Center for Education Reform decried the 2017 scores in an email blast Monday, echoing the ominous 1983 Reagan-era “A Nation At Risk” report that claimed American students were falling behind their peers in other countries.
“These scores are a sobering reminder that we remain a nation with far too many children and young adults poorly educated, unprepared to enter college or the workforce, and ultimately, unable to achieve the American Dream of living a rewarding, prosperous life,” Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, said in a statement.
But state education officials Tuesday cautioned that’s a lot to read into one test.
“It’s, I believe, a stretch to say public education is in a dire way based strictly because of the scores on NAEP,” Bowles says.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.