Delaware’s NAEP Results: Pretty Good Near Term, Better Longer Term
Last Thursday, Delaware and the rest of the nation got the results from “the Nation’s Report Card,” otherwise known as the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP).
The story these results tell is two-fold. First, near term, our student growth between now and 2011 was modest. I’ll elaborate more below, but The News Journal did a good job telling that story. However, a story that has not gotten as much attention is the state’s longer term trajectory. In my mind, both stories are important.
Over the last two years, as a state, we’ve been moving forward. We’re doing well in elementary school; the state’s highest performance was in fourth grade reading. Although these scores were distributed across 12 other states, Delaware earned one of the six highest average scores in the nation. And our fourth grade math scores showed gains—we’re one of only sixteen states that showed such an increase. Further, of the 12 Race to the Top states, Delaware is one of just six that produced statistically significant gains since 2011, according to Education Week.
However, while the percentage of Delaware’s eighth grade reading and math students at or above proficient is comparable to the national average, our scores for both eighth grade math and reading were largely flat since 2011.
In short, with our sights set on world-class, the gains between 2011 and 2013 are pretty good, but not great when compared to some of the massive gains made in places like Washington D.C. and Tennessee.
That said, while the growth in the last two years is modest, our trajectory over the last decade and further has been strong. Research by Stanford Professor Eric Hanushek identified Delaware as the third fastest growing state on NAEP gains in the country when looking at trends over the past two decades. Additionally, he explains that if every U.S. state could increase its performance, maintaining the same trajectory as Delaware (and the other top three states he cites in his report), the U.S. improvement rate would be among the best in the world.
Hanushek’s trajectories show another point – progress takes time. Having worked for the Governor of Massachusetts in 1993, I saw that the policies they catalyzed that year through the Massachusetts Education Reform Act took close to twenty years to bear fruit. Back then, they invested in a rigorous curriculum framework, early learning investments, teacher training, and certification reforms. Today, Massachusetts is a top performing state on not only NAEP, but on other international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
Through Race to the Top, Delaware has implemented many of the successful policies that took hold in Massachusetts two decades earlier. While our current NAEP results since 2011 are modest, our overall, long-term growth tells another story. It’s a story that positions Delaware on a trajectory that catches up to and eventually surpasses national and world leaders like Massachusetts.
That said, I’m impatient. As Charles Osgood wrote back in 1986, if you want to be great, pretty good just isn’t good enough. Delaware is on the right track; we’re moving, but we need to maintain a sense of urgency because the rest of the world is moving, too.