The NAEP scores are in and the “reformers,” or as Diane Ravitch has taken to calling them, the “Disrupters” are up in arms because the scores haven’t improved. The disrupters promised all of us that charter schools, testing, vouchers, and other “reforms” would solve the low achievement scores, but as we now can see, that didn’t happen. Perhaps there’s something else that might be affecting the achievement of the students in our classrooms…
When reading through the articles noted below it’s important to remember two things.
First, the National Reading Panel did not support heavy phonics instruction despite what “phonics-first” partisans might tell you. It’s true, the National Reading Panel Summary said that a phonics-based approach was supported, however, that was different than what was actually in the full National Reading Panel report! (See also I Told You So! The Misinterpretation and Misuse of The National Reading Panel Report by NRP Panel member, Joanne Yatvin and More Smoke and Mirrors: A Critique of the National Reading Panel (NRP) Report on “Fluency” by Stephen Krashen.)
The actual National Reading Panel Report says (p. 2-97),
…it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program. [emphasis added]
So…the NRP recommends something akin to Balanced Literacy…something the “phonics-firsters” decry as “unscientific.”
Second, as Steven Singer (Gadfly on the Wall Blog) reminds us, NAEP proficient level isn’t the same as grade-level. Diane Ravitch, who served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years explains it this way…
Proficient is akin to a solid A. In reading, the proportion who were proficient in fourth grade reading rose from 29% in 1992 to 34% in 2011. The proportion proficient in eighth grade also rose from 29% to 34% in those years. In math, the proportion in fourth grade who were proficient rose from 18% to 40% in the past twenty years, an absolutely astonishing improvement. In eighth grade, the proportion proficient in math went from 21% in 1992 to an amazing 35% in 2011.
Basic is akin to a B or C level performance…
In other words, Proficient is the level where the highest-scoring students achieve. Basic is closer to what we think of as “grade-level.”
The miniscule changes in reading scores since 2015 are interpreted in “National Reading Emergency” as a reason to embrace “the science of reading,” which is code for heavy phonics instruction. The real “science of reading,” based on a substantial amount of research, consistently shows that intensive phonics instruction produces strong results only on tests in which children pronounce words out of context. It has little or no impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
The best predictor of performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read is real reading, especially self-selected reading.
Paul Thomas’s bullet points below are a good summary of why the NAEP scores do not signal a “national emergency.”
With the release of 2019 NAEP data, as we should expect, the same folk are back at over-reacting and misunderstanding standardized reading test data (mostly mainstream media), and dyslexia/phonics advocates are cherry picking evidence to reinforce their ideological advocacy.
All in all, these responses to NAEP data are lazy, and incredibly harmful.
Broadly, responses by the media and advocates have been overly simplistic, and lacking even a modicum of effort to tease out in a scientific way (ironic, eh?) mere correlations from actual causal associations among student demographics, reading policy, reading programs, the fidelity of implementing policy/programs, NAEP testing quality (how valid a proxy is NAEP reading tests for critical reading ability?), etc.
…Only fair things to say about new round of NAEP reading scores:
• The US has never had a period over the last 100 years when we said “reading scores are where they should be.”
• There is always a claim of “reading crisis.”
• This is irrespective of how reading is taught.
• NAEP scores, like all standardized test scores, are mostly (60% +) correlated to out-of-school factors.
• NAEP scores only marginally about student achievement/reading, teacher/teaching quality, reading program effectiveness.
• NAEP scores are very pale proxies of reading
This is a good place (see bullet #4, above) to remind you to read Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, by David C. Berliner. Unfortunately, little has changed since the report was first published in 2009.
The low scores are, as they always have been, just another excuse to blame teachers, label schools as “failing”, and promote the privatization of public education.
The latest “criticize teachers for not teaching the ‘science’ of reading” can be found in “Schools Should Follow the ‘Science of Reading,’ say National Education Groups” in the Gates funded Education Week.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds most of the organizations in this report that criticize public schools and teachers for low NAEP scores. Yet they are behind the Common Core State Standards, which appear to be an abysmal failure.
Most individuals and groups never teach children themselves, but they create policies that affect how and what teachers are forced to teach. They have always been about privatizing public education.
Reading instruction is the conduit for corporate school reformers to reach their privatization goals.
The US Education Secretary, she who must not be named, is, of course, ignorant about what testing in general means, what “grade-level” means, and what the NAEP scores mean specifically. It’s time we replace her with someone who actually knows something about the education of children.
[Note: While the current US Education Secretary is certainly the worst person we’ve ever had in charge of the nation’s K-12 public schools, she’s not the only Secretary of Education who displayed ignorance of the field of education. In fact, only three of the eleven Secretaries of Education had training and experience in the field of K-12 education.]
She says that the NAEP results mean that 2/3 of American students read below grade level. However, Greene points out that she is conflating two different things – grade level proficiency and NAEP proficiency.
Here’s what the NAEP wrote:
“The NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade-level proficiency, but rather competency over challenging subject matter. NAEP Achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.”
Which kind of begs the question of why we need these scores in the first place.