New Analyses Examine State Track Records in Performance and Improvement

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Publication date: 
July 8 2013

WASHINGTON (July 9, 2013) — Common Core standards have the potential to dramatically raise the rigor of instruction – and the level of achievement – in schools across the country. But these standards will also demand more of our students and teachers than ever before. While there is much work to be done in all states to lift all students to the college- and career-ready level, a new analysis shows that the stretch is far bigger in some states than in others.

A new report by The Education Trust, “Uneven at the Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core,” uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the best available proxy for how states will fare on new college- and career-ready standards – to look at state track records in improvement and achievement and ask how slow or fast states moved in the last decade, compared to the nation as a whole. To get at how even the challenge is, the analysis looks both at patterns for all students in all states, and at patterns among the students who constitute America’s “new majority”: low-income students and students of color.

“In too many recent meetings, state leaders talk about how students will ‘all be in the same place’ when the new assessments are administered,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “But they aren’t in the same place. Instead of just pretending that the same amount of effort will be required everywhere to get children to the new standards, we need to make sure that the lessons from states that have improved the most for all groups of children inform implementation work more broadly and ensure that struggling states have the extra help they will need to build the forward momentum that is already present elsewhere.”

Ed Trust’s analysis shows that some states have track records of high performance and strong improvement for all groups of learners in recent years. For example:

  • For students overall, New Jersey performed significantly better and improved faster than the nation as a whole in most subjects and grades – and had a stronger track record for African American students than the national average.
  • Maryland is the only state that performed better and improved faster for students overall in all subjects and grades tested on NAEP. The state also showed a strong track record for low-income and African American students.
  • In Massachusetts, overall student performance and improvement were significantly higher than national averages in most subject areas and grades tested on NAEP. The state also had the strongest track record for low-income students.

For these states, Common Core will be a stretch, but they have successfully stretched themselves before.

Other states, however, have lagged behind in both performance and improvement. Instead of a running start, they begin at a disadvantage.

  • West Virginia was the only state that performed significantly worse and improved significantly more slowly than the nation for students overall in all four subjects and grades.
  • Oregon generally has a weak track record. More often than not, the state showed below-average performance and improvement for students overall, low-income students, and Latino students.

In yet other states, Ed Trust’s analysis showed a more mixed picture, with overall trends looking good relative to other states, but performance among significant student groups lagging behind that in other states. For example, both Ohio and Wisconsin have relatively strong track records for students overall, but both also have weaker track records for one or more of their underserved groups.

To offer a more detailed look at state performance and improvement, Ed Trust has released a State Academic Performance and Improvement Tool, which generates scatterplots showing state performance and gains by student group in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math, respectively. This easy-to-use interactive tool allows users to compare their state’s achievement patterns to those of any other state and the nation as a whole.

In addition, updated 2013 EdWatch reports present an array of data above and beyond what can be understood from NAEP results, including measures of college and career readiness, and high school and college graduation rates for all groups of students. These state-specific reports present the best available compilation of data on achievement, attainment, and equity in a consistent format so that educators, parents, and public officials can squarely face the issue of achievement for all groups of students.

These analyses offer multiple ways to access the data, but are all geared toward the same goal: providing an honest look at how states are doing for all groups of students. The data reveal challenges for all states, but also point toward existing improvement knowledge that can and should be tapped, both within state boundaries and across the country.

“All states will need to work hard and smart to support their schools in making sure that all students get the learning opportunities they need to reach these college- and career-ready standards.  And no state – not the advocates or foundations that are supporting them – can afford to embark on this effort without an honest appraisal of where its students and schools are,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, senior data and policy analyst at The Education Trust and author of the report. “Our analyses can support this work by unveiling potential challenges, potential lessons, and potential opportunities.”

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