A Lazy Look at High School NAEP Scores (Media Coverage)

Usually, mainstream magazines like Slate and The New Republic offer a sharp, interesting view of school reform during the rare instances they address it. Or at least some good writing.

And indeed, the opening lines of this week's story in Slate about high school NAEP scores promises great things:
"If you believe in test scores—and education policymakers seem to believe in little else these days—American high-school students are a pathetic bunch."
The writer, Alexandra Starr, is a former political reporter for Business Week and a former ME at the Washington Monthly. The article is part of Slate's series, "Hey, wait a minute: the conventional wisdom debunked."

But I'm not sure any wisdom, convention or otherwise, is really taken on here, or even whether the underlying argument holds water.

Titled They're Not Stupid—They're Lazy, the basic point of the article seems to be that things might be much better than they seem from recent NAEP scores, because students taking NAEP don't have any individual stake in the test results, and they're high schoolers. Starr urges us to "look at these tests like a capitalist rather than an educator." OK, fine. Incentives. Got it.

But we already knew that high school students don't have much incentive when it comes to taking the NAEP tests. That's been part of the discussion about high school NAEP results for years.

And we already know that other test score results are arguably getting better over time and in response to situations in which there are individual stakes involved -- high school exit exams, SATs.

That leaves the basic premise, about which there are also some questions.

Mainly, if things
are better now in secondary education than they were before, shouldn't kids today still outscore kids from 30 years ago? They were unmotivated to perform on the NAEP then. They're unmotivated now. They know more now, according to Starr. But the scores aren't much different.

And what about elementary school NAEP scores, which are on the rise? If motivation is all, then shouldn't they stay flat?

Now I'm no economist or behavior expert, but it seems to me that if high school kids were actually learning more in school than they had before, the NAEP scores would show at least part of that change.

Not all behavior is purely incentive-based. And a lazy NAEP-taker who knows 10 things is going to let more of that knowledge slip out than a lazy NAEP-taker who knows only 4 things.


Anonymous Marion Brady said...

What's routinely not taken into account in the current "reform" efforts are the consequences of (1)using a century-old curriculum at fundamental odds with the systemically integrated, mutually supportive nature of knowledge, and (2) ignoring the brain's need for a "master categorizing system" for coping with the vast and increasingly expanding flow of information with which kids must cope.

8:54 AM  

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