Examining the Hysteria Over School Test Scores

Examining the Hysteria Over School Test Scores

Recently the National Center for Education Statistics released the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) scores for fourth and eighth graders’ math and reading skills. This “nation’s report card” compared scores on tests given in 2019 to those given in 2022. There should have been little surprise that the scores went down, but instead there were cries of great despair from the standing critics of public schools. In a press release, Governor Glenn Youngkin termed the results “catastrophic”—his Secretary of Education called them “heart wrenching.”

Between the administration of the two tests there was a pandemic where schools were closed for health reasons based on the best medical recommendations. I understand that the closing of schools was a controversial decision to some, but the weighing of human life of children and school staff from a deadly pandemic vs. points on standardized tests was one that was made in favor of human health and life. A virtual system of educating children at home was hastily assembled, and I believe had amazing results. Over time parents seemed united in their desire to get their children out of the house from too much togetherness because the parents found themselves at home and businesses closed just as the schools had because of the risks to human life brought on by the pandemic.

Second guessing is always easy because you can suggest the outcome you would like to believe would have happened. Suppose the schools had not closed or masks had not been required as some wanted. The outcome could have been catastrophic in the loss of life to children and school staff as we gave priority to health over some points on a less-than-perfect testing system. Suppose we would acknowledge just how valuable our teachers and the work they do are; a year away from direct contact with teachers and students suddenly at home with their parents using digital learning devices was bound to result in lower test scores. 

The winners in this scenario are the teachers and school personnel who have been doing an amazing job of educating children even with low pay and lack of resources. Reduce their role and you get lower scores on the nation’s report card.

Too many politicians like those in leadership in Virginia look for scapegoats: “my predecessors,” “lowered expectations,” “keeping children out of school for extended and unnecessary periods.” Their seven-point plan to respond to the dip in test scores calls for no specific investment in the schools other than asking districts to spend the federal dollars that have been made available by the federal government. What happens when those federal dollars that were appropriated to respond to results of the pandemic on the schools dry up? Will the administration propose state dollars to fill in behind the federal dollars? How does their proposed action 6 to “provide parents, students, and teachers with actionable information” do anything to help children learn? 

I fully admit my bias in favor of the schools and the amazing job they do in educating all the children in our diverse communities. For another look at this subject, I suggest you read on the education blog of the Atlanta Journal Constitution a guest column by Ted Dintersmith, “Misplaced Focus on NAEP scores cause test score hysteria,” https://www.ajc.com/education/get-schooled-blog/education-innovator-misplaced-focus-on-naep-fuels-test-score-hysteria/TL6FA32WLFDDNMDF36RX5ZKNDQ/.