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Philly does poorly on NAEP math tests

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 8, 2009 07:26 PM

Just 16 percent of 4th graders and 17 percent of 8th graders in Philadelphia scored proficient or better in math on the Nation's Report Card. The Report Card is also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, or the NAEP. Results on the exam, released today, put the city below the average for students in big districts across the nation.

In addition, those numbers differ wildly from proficiency rates on the PSSA, the state standardized tests. In 2009, more than 60 percent of Philadelphia 4th graders and 51 percent of 8th graders scored proficient or better -- raising issues about the rigor of state standards and the PSSA.

While NAEP is given every two years, some cities are participating voluntarily in a study specifically comparing large urban districts. Philadelphia is among seven districts that signed up for that comparison starting this year; 11 districts were also tested in 2007.

The results showed that overall, students in big cities have made progress in the past two years, but that some cities lag far behind others.

Some of the results were striking.

Philadelphia's 4th grade proficiency rate of 16 percent bested only Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit,  Fresno and Milwaukee, putting it in the bottom third among 18 large cities and lagging far behind the overall proficiency rate of 29 percent for large cities. Its 8th grade proficiency rate of 17 percent was somewhat closer to the large city average score of 24 percent.

Philadelphia was below the national average for every race/ethnicity category for 4th graders: White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander. For 8th graders it was below the national average for Black and Hispanic students, but there was "no significant difference between the District and the nation" for White and Asian/Pacfic Islander students.

There is a growing movement towards national education standards. Part of the interest in national standards comes from wide gaps in national and state measures, such as what these NAEP results revealed.

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Comments (4)

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on December 18, 2009 2:01 pm

I worked as a test administrator for both the most recent NAEP test and the previous test and wanted to offer a few thoughts on gap between NAEP and PSSA results.

The question of how well the test alligns with state standards and what Philadelphia students are learning is one that I'm not in a position to make any judgements and this certainly is an important issue.

However student motivation and test security are other important questions that could have an impact on test outcomes.

Security for the NAEP test is much stricter than the PSSA and test administration is designed to minimize the opportunities for cheating.   Test administrators do not know the students and teachers, while present, are not allowed to answer student questions.   Test administration is scripted and supervised by a test team leader.  Students do not take the same test.   Not only are they taking tests in different subjects but each subject test has several versions, each with different questions.  Test administrators record any disruptions, student refusals and conditions like excessive heat or cold that could have an impact on test results.

This is in sharp contrast to the PSSA which typically is administered by teachers who are going to be held accountable for results and are subject to minimal supervision during testing.

In Philadelphia schools teachers and students are under constant pressure to perform well on the PSSA.   Teachers certainly get the message that they will be judged by how their students perform.   Students are typically offered incentives and rewards for making an effort and most students appear to  do their best.

What surprised me is that they also appear to do their best on the NAEP test in spite of minimal incentives to do so.   Some administrators and teachers do speak to students prior to the test and a letter is sent home encouraging participation and effort, but there is little in the way of arm twisting because NAEP is not a high stakes test.   Only District wide data is released so schools suffer no penalty one way or another. 

I have administred the test to both whole classes and smaller groups in easily fifty or more schools including some where the climate was poor and have found that with few exeptions the students worked hard and seemed engaged.   It may be they are so used to the regimen of standardized tests that they have almost Pavlovian response.   

I mention this because I'm sure some people will explain the NAEP-PSSA gap by suggesting that the students blow off NAEP and are motivated to work harder on PSSA.    I don't have any hard evidence to refute this argument but based on the experience of our testing team is doesn't compute. 


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