Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of its most recent national science test for fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders—the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). There’s a bit of good news, in that average scores are up slightly in the fourth and eighth grades and race-based achievement gaps narrowed slightly since 2009.
This was what Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the agency responsible for assessment, seized on, as reported by the Washington Post. “This is exactly what we like to see,” she proclaimed, “all students improving but students at the bottom of the distribution making faster gains.”
Her statement erred in at least two important ways. First, it’s simply not true that all students improved. Twelfth grade was, regrettably, flat. And more importantly, our development of high achieving students might be, too.
It’s true that in fourth and eighth grade, if you define “high achievers” as those who score in the top ten percent, then the scores of such students have risen, including those of low-income and minority students. But we should be wary of such a definition. Recall that NAEP also reports student and state performance against three “achievement levels,” dubbed Basic,...