Latest NAEP results suggest we’re at a critical inflection point

Latest NAEP results suggest we’re at a critical inflection point

By Dale Chu

The bad news keeps on coming. A different iteration of the nation’s report card, the “Long-Term Trend Assessment (LTT),” raises additional concerns about how our students were faring even before the pandemic took hold (i.e., the results are from late 2019/early 2020). The upshot: the gap is growing between the highest and lowest performers, with scores for 9-year-olds flat since 2012, and the scores for 13-year-olds falling in both reading and math for the first time in the 50-year history of these exams.

Setting aside the ritual of Monday morning quarterbacking these unsettling results, it’s worth contemplating what all of this might mean in the context of Covid. By “all of this,” I’m referring to the long string of alarm bell raising reports we’ve heard over the last year based on local assessment results and state assessment results, to say nothing of the inexplicable denial some appear to be harboring with regard to the nation’s present predicament. To be fair, no one can know for certain at this point, but we’ll have a clearer sense when the next round of LTT data is released in 2022. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli echoes the sentiment of many observers in expecting them to be “horrendous.”

Indeed, a day of reckoning could be in store if next year’s LTT scores crater as badly as the forecasts predict. The question will be what to do about it. Some may use the moment to relitigate the reasons why our schools were caught so flat-footed, but I think our energy and effort could be better served if directed towards a concerted push for a larger and more comprehensive improvement agenda. We may need to discuss other strategies: better assessment systems, an even deeper emphasis on curricular-based reforms, far more educational flexibility for students and families—or some combination of all three. The one thing we cannot do is simply “return to normal.”

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