Monday, December 9, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #161 – December 6, 2013

Dear Friends,

National Assessment test results released in November showed that Indiana students performed very well in comparison to national averages. This has happened several times before, a positive story that few have noticed. All in all, Indiana’s performance on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has been an overlooked story of improvement in Indiana’s public schools over the past 20 years.

Politicians, including Dr. Bennett, have tried to claim this year’s NAEP success as evidence of the success of recent reform efforts, but the details below will show that improvement on NAEP reprises similar gains made in 1996, 2003 and 2007.

Data also clearly show a bigger gain among 4th graders than among 8th graders. This result is likely to be linked to data presented by Dr. Richard Hill to the State Board on September 4th that 2500 3rd graders were retained and tested again as 3rd graders due to retention rules pushed through by Dr. Bennett. Previously, about 600 were retained in 3rd grade each year. Taking approximately 2000 students who could not pass ISTEP out of the 4th grade cohort could go a long way to explain why 4th grade scores on the National Assessment noticeably went up.

Findings for 2013

Indiana began participation in the National Assessment in 1990. NAEP identifies a stratified random sample of students to take the test, generally given every two year. It is known as “the nation’s report card” from a time when politicians thought it would not be necessary to test every child to see how the schools were doing. National Assessment has survived as a respected measure while “No Child Left Behind” results initiated in 2002 have already faded in disrepute and waivers.

There was a time in the 1990’s when participation was optional at the local level, but that discretion ended when PL221 was passed and participation in NAEP testing was required by rules passed by the Indiana State Board of Education. The data below therefore show every result that Indiana has recorded in the NAEP testing program.

Diane Ravitch, in an article entitled “The Myth of Charter Schools,” has described the meaning of the basic, proficient and advanced standards used to report National Assessment results:
“I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years… The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade.”
Since 2000, I have reported NAEP results at the basic and proficient level in my annual report on improvement in Indiana’s public schools. The most recent full report from June 2013 and a new update on NAEP data are both available for those who want all the data. With this background about the National Assessment, consider now the 2013 results for Indiana in their historical context.

Grade 4 Math – Basic Standard: % AT OR ABOVE BASIC

...............................................INDIANA..........US........IN:US GAP
Mathematics..Gr.4 1992.........60%...........57%...........+3
.........................Gr.4 1996.........72%...........61%...........+11
.........................Gr.4 2000.........77%...........64%...........+13
.........................Gr.4 2003.........82%...........76%...........+6
.........................Gr.4 2005.........84%...........79%...........+5
.........................Gr.4 2007.........89%...........81%...........+8
.........................Gr.4 2009.........87%...........81%...........+6
.........................Gr.4 2011.........87%...........82%...........+5
.........................Gr.4 2013.........90%...........82%...........+8

The 2013 Indiana math results showed a solid improvement of 3% among 4th graders on the basic standard. The historical record above shows that even bigger 5% gains were recorded in 2007, 2003 and 2000. In 1996, an eye-popping 12% gain was recorded in 1996 when Project Primetime was actively reducing class sizes in the early grades. Indiana’s advantage over the national average reached +8% in 2013, a level reached or exceeded previously in 2007, 2000 and 1996. Note that Indiana has been higher than the national average on every assessment on this table.

Grade 4 Reading – Basic Standard: % AT OR ABOVE BASIC

...............................................INDIANA..........US........IN:US GAP
Reading ....... Gr.4 1992.........68%...........60%........... +8
........................Gr.4 1994.........66%...........59%........... +7
........................Gr.4 2002.........68%...........62%........... +6
........................Gr.4 2003.........66%...........62%........... +4
........................Gr.4 2005.........64%...........62%........... +2
........................Gr.4 2007.........68%...........66%........... +2
........................Gr.4 2009.........70%...........66%........... +6
........................Gr.4 2011.........68%...........66%........... +2
........................Gr.4 2013.........73%...........67%........... +6

The 2013 Indiana reading results showed a 5% improvement over the previous test, 1% higher than the previous highest gain of 4% in 2007. Indiana’s advantage over the national average reached +6% in 2013, a level reached or exceeded previously in 2009, 2002, 1994 and 1992. Note that Indiana has been higher than the national average on every assessment on this table.

Grade 8 Math – Basic Standard: % AT OR ABOVE BASIC

...............................................INDIANA..........US........IN:US GAP
Mathematics..Gr.8 1990.........56%...........51% ...........  +5
.........................Gr.8 1992.........60%...........56% ...........  +4
.........................Gr.8 1996.........68%...........59% ...........  +9
.........................Gr.8 2000.........74%...........62% ...........  +12
.........................Gr.8 2003.........74%...........67% ...........  +7
.........................Gr.8 2005.........74%...........68% ...........  +6
.........................Gr.8 2007.........76%...........70% ...........  +6
.........................Gr.8 2009.........78%...........71% ...........  +7
.........................Gr.8 2011.........77%...........72% ...........  +5
.........................Gr.8 2013.........77%...........73% ...........  +4

The 2013 Indiana math results for Grade 8 showed no change from the previous test in 2011 on the basic standard. The historical record above shows that Indiana’s advantage over the national average was +4 in 2013, a figure equaled or exceeded in every test to date. In 2000, Indiana recorded a double digit advantage over the nation of +12. Note that Indiana has been higher than the national average on every assessment on this table.

Grade 8 Reading – Basic Standard: % AT OR ABOVE BASIC

...............................................INDIANA..........US........IN:US GAP
Reading ....... Gr.8 2002.........77%...........74%........... +3
........................Gr.8 2003.........77%...........72%........... +5
........................Gr.8 2005.........73%...........71%........... +2
........................Gr.8 2007.........76%...........73%........... +3
........................Gr.8 2009.........79%...........74%........... +5
........................Gr.8 2011.........78%...........75%........... +3
........................Gr.8 2013.........79%...........77%........... +2

The 2013 Indiana reading results for Grade 8 showed a 1% gain over the 2011 test on the basic standard, equaling the 79% level reached once before in 2009. The historical record above shows that Indiana’s advantage over the national average in 2013 was +2, a figure equaled or exceeded in every test to date. Note that Indiana has been higher than the national average on every assessment on this table.

Proficient Standard Attached

By now, if you are still reading, you have probably seen enough numbers for a while. The conclusions are clear. On the Basic standard, the one Diane Ravitch equated to a “C”, the Grade 4 scores jumped up noticeably, while the Grade 8 scores remained stable. On the Proficient standard, equated to “an A or a very strong B”, there is a similar set of numbers which show a higher gains in Grade 4 than in Grade 8. You can examine the attached NAEP results for the Proficient data if you are so inclined.

This raises a key question: Why are Grade 4 gains noticeably higher that Grade 8?

The ISTEP Report from Dr. Richard Hill

Dr. Richard Hill was the national testing expert retained by the Indiana Department of Education to review the CTB/McGraw online testing debacle last spring. His report to the General Assembly last summer and to the State Board of Education on September 4th revealed that Grade 4 ISTEP scores went up while Grade 3 scores went down. This Grade 3 result contradicted his finding that in general scores at every grade followed trends of previous years in support of his overall conclusion that the online disruptions did not invalidate the Spring ISTEP tests, so he looked more closely at the 3rd and 4th Grade data.

He reported that 2500 Grade 3 were retained and retested as Grade 3 students, whereas in past years approximately 600 had been retained. This, he said, could account for the drop in Grade 3 scores and the rise in Grade 4 scores unrelated to the online disruptions.

This documentation also could account for rising test scores on NAEP in Grade 4 and would explain why an equally strong gain was not seen in Grade 8 NAEP scores. If Indiana took nearly 2000 ISTEP-failing students out of the Grade 4 cohort of approximately 75,000 for the 2013 NAEP tests, anyone would expect the 4th grade tests to get a noticeable bump up. The same effect was not active for Grade 8 scores, which showed stable and only modest gains, as seen on the NAEP table attached. You can examine the scores and draw your own conclusion. I believe it is clear that a smaller Grade 4 cohort cleansed of IREAD-failing students would account for noticeable gains on NAEP in Grade 4 and much greater gains in Grade 4 than in Grade 8.

This analysis debunks the claims of those who say a reform agenda of private schools vouchers, 3rd grade reading promotion tests and merit pay created higher NAEP scores.

It Worked for Florida

Governor Daniels and State Superintendent Bennett invited Jeb Bush and other Florida leaders to the September 2009 meeting of the Indiana Education Roundtable to tout the reforms in Florida that Indiana might adopt, especially a reading test for promotion to 4th grade. The validation of the Florida program was entirely based on NAEP gains in 4th grade reading. Elaborate data graphs about Florida’s gains were presented, showing positive results for every subgroup.

No one mentioned that day that reducing the Grade 4 cohort by several thousand Grade 3 retentions had influenced the positive Florida results on Grade 4 NAEP.

No one mentioned that day that Indiana’s 4th graders have had a long record of consistently higher NAEP scores in math when compared to Florida’s 4th graders.

No one mentioned that day that Indiana’s 8th graders have had a long record of consistently higher NAEP scores in both reading and math when compared to Florida’s 8th graders.

A masterful marketing job was mounted using only 4th grade NAEP reading results, propelling passage in the 2010 session of the reading law which Dr. Bennett used to create IREAD tests to determine promotion to 4th grade. The program lives on. When Superintendent Ritz was presenting her proposed changes to the reading program in the July State Board meeting of this year, Dan Elsener interrupted her presentation and her plan was tabled, perhaps permanently.

One can well imagine that a plan to export Indiana’s reform package of vouchers, merit pay and 3rd grade reading tests based on NAEP success has been considered, following the model of Florida. That thought gives more importance to understanding NAEP results as I have presented them above in their complete historical context.

Thanks for your support and actions on behalf of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith


ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose the privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We are preparing for the next session of the General Assembly beginning in January. Joel Hand will again serve as ICPE lobbyist for the session. We need your membership to help support his work. Many have renewed their memberships this fall, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.

We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on our three ICPE membership meetings this fall. Thanks!


Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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