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States' Commitment to Standards-Based Reform May Affect NAEP Scores for Low-Income Students, New CAP Analysis of NAEP Data Reveals

Washington, D.C.— A new report from the Center for American Progress finds that a state’s commitment to standards-based reform may have an impact on the performance of low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The most recent round of NAEP data, which was released in October 2015, showed a massive gap between the states with the highest-performing low-income students and the states with the lowest. For instance, low-income students in Massachusetts scored 17 points higher in eighth-grade math than low-income students in Mississippi.

“The initial release of the most recent NAEP scores stirred much controversy about the impact of standards-based reform and the Common Core State Standards on student outcomes,” said Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at CAP. “A closer look at the data, however, shows that low-income students in states that embraced standards-based reform posted better gains on the NAEP math and reading assessments than states that turned away from such reforms.”

“One of the most important aspects of standards-based reforms such as the Common Core is that such standards raise expectations for all students,” said Catherine Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at CAP. “Improving testing practices and building instructional capacity are two ways that states can help their districts, schools, and teachers implement the Common Core standards and therefore raise the bar for student achievement.”

CAP analyzed the NAEP data and used a regression analysis to examine the performance of low-income students on NAEP over time in relation to a state’s standards-based reform efforts, measuring the impacts of policy improvements on NAEP outcomes two years after the actual policy change was adopted in order to take into account time for the policies to be implemented.

The report’s authors found that many states that have not fully embraced standards-based reform have shown low-income students falling behind on NAEP, while states that have thoughtfully pushed standards-based reform have shown clear gains for low-income students. From 2003 to 2015, states such as Kansas, Iowa, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas—all of which have been historically averse to standards-based reform—showed some of the lowest rates of growth in NAEP scores for low-income students. The analysis also showed that states and districts that have embraced standards-based reform and thoughtfully implemented it—such as the District of Columbia, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Florida—posted some of the largest gains on NAEP for low-income students since 2003.

CAP’s analysis also revealed that implementing standards-based reform significantly improved learning outcomes for low-income students in fourth-grade math and eighth-grade reading, with states typically seeing a jump in outcomes due to standards-based reform from 2003 to 2013. Finally, the authors noted that some states—such as Oklahoma and South Carolina—posted poor NAEP results but are nevertheless among those states looking to leave the Common Core. This push to abandon the Common Core is despite the fact that those two states generally have low levels of achievement, and their students are scoring below the national average in almost every tested subject area and grade level.

The authors conclude that given these findings, states should remain dedicated to standards-based reform, such as the Common Core and its associated assessments, that raise expectations for all students. The authors note that improving testing practices and building instructional capacity for standards-based reform will help support educators to rise to the challenge of the Common Core.

To read the report: “Lessons From State Performance on NAEP: Why Some High-Poverty Students Score Better Than Others” by Ulrich Boser and Catherine Brown.

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