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2013 National Test Results Show Little Change in State’s Rankingscomment (0)

November 28, 2013

By Jim Williams

This month, the National Center for Education Statistics issued the 2013 edition of The Nation’s Report Card, which compares test results in reading and math among students across the country. 

While holding on to gains made in recent years in reading, Alabama students continued to lag behind the rest of the nation in math.

The test results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP tests are given every other year to a sample of students from each state, providing the only current measure of how states compare on school performance. Results are not reported for individual schools. Unfortunately that takes away the incentive to improve for low-performing schools and denies recognition to those that are high-performing. Regardless, it’s clear we need to do better as a state.

Alabama’s best performance in recent years has been in fourth-grade reading, where our students made substantial gains starting in 2007 and caught the national average in 2011. The 2013 results for students from both poverty and nonpoverty backgrounds maintained parity with the national averages for those groups. The Alabama Reading Initiative, which places reading coaches in elementary schools, is widely credited with raising performance at this level. 

However, in eighth-grade reading Alabama’s poverty-level students were tied with Mississippi for the lowest results in 2013. Among students from nonpoverty backgrounds, only Louisiana, Mississippi and four other states had lower results.

On the math tests, Alabama’s poverty-level students ranked 50th among both fourth- and eighth graders. The ranking for students from nonpoverty backgrounds was only slightly better, at 49th.   

Changes are afoot to improve these results. Alabama has introduced more rigorous College and Career Ready Standards, and teachers will have better ways to benchmark student progress from year to year. Test results will be comparable across state lines because of the voluntary agreement of most states on common standards. 

When these new capabilities are fully in place, Alabama students should be better prepared and we’ll be able to compare test results from our school systems with their peers in other states. This will provide better incentives for those who need to improve as well as recognition for those who rise above the average.  

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jim Williams is executive director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. Jim may be contacted at jwwillia@samford.edu.

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