Report Card Woes

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

The U.S. Department of Education released the “Nation’s Report Card”: state-by-state results from the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Did American public schools make the grade? The answer is an unsatisfying “not really.” While math scores are generally up across the country for fourth- and eighth-graders, reading scores are stagnant for fourth-graders, and dropping for eighth-graders. Racial achievement gaps are closing, but are doing so at a snail’s pace.

Response has been mixed, with President Bush calling the results “encouraging,” while others suggest the scores are nothing to celebrate. Both the U.S. Department of Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released statements with the usual political spin, but also expressed concern about the lack of reading achievement.

While some may claim that stricter federal standards have failed, Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (quoted in the Washington Post), cautions against tying scores directly to No Child Left Behind. “Let’s put it this way. Reading scores were flat and math scores on the rise before No Child Left Behind, and reading scores are flat and math scores are still up after No Child Left Behind. It’s impossible to know whether NCLB had an impact − either positively or negatively.”

What about North Carolina? Between 2003-2005, fourth- and eighth-grade math scores remained the same (with 47 percent of students proficient or above in fourth grade, and 39 percent proficient or above in eighth grade). Reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders spiraled down (from 41 to 36 percent proficient or above in fourth grade, and from 31 to 29 percent proficient or above in eighth grade). Do we dare compare taxpayers’ annual increased financial investment with these results?

A recent data analysis by Education Trust singles out North Carolina for universally low reading performance, noting that in 2005, reading scores fell for every demographic group of fourth-graders. A report by the Public School Forum indicates that North Carolina was one of two states (along with West Virginia) that had statistically significant declines in the reading performance of both fourth- and eighth-graders

What about charter schools? Overall, NAEP scores reveal encouraging trends for these schools, with a caveat or two. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter students made particularly strong gains in reading, outpacing students in traditional public schools, whose scores have remained unchanged since 2003. African-American, Latino, and low-income charter students also read better than their fourth-grade peers in traditional public schools; in fact, Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools posted 10-point gains over their non-charter counterparts. In eighth grade, however, NAEP scores show charter school students trailing their peers in public schools in reading and math.

In the end, how should we interpret these results? The bottom line is that well more than half of the public school students in our state − from all walks of life − can’t read at proficient levels. If that doesn’t galvanize us into reforming our schools, what will?

To learn more about student achievement, as well as the latest education news, visit the Alliance online at