Because it provides policymakers with a window into national learning, the national assessment NAEP is also known as “nation’s reporting card”. The latest results, which were released last month, showed a significant national decline in reading and math scores. This shows how disruptive the pandemic was for learning.
These scores led to states jockeying to be in the top position as they tried to determine which state’s education system was most affected by the pandemic.
California Governor Gavin Newsom circulated a press statement in the immediate aftermath of the results. It claimed that California’s math scores had shown less decline than other states. Newsom said that the state’s 23.8 billion education funding boost was responsible for the state’s performance, but acknowledged that it was not a celebration. It was a call to action.
Some states made more boastful claims about their relative performance than others. Alabama was one example. A news analysis of the state’s NAEP results revealed that Alabama wasn’t at the bottom in terms of learning lost. commented that Alabama’s happiness is the nation’s gain.
These comparisons are tempting, and a national metric broken down into states almost invites competition. Karyn Lewis, director at the Center for School and Progress of the academic assessment non-profit NWEA, says that this practice is “really problematic”.
Lewis says, “Unfortunately I believe that requires us to make comparisons among states is really problematic.”
She argues that the NAEP results only provide a snapshot of student performance in certain grades every two years. This is what policymakers at both the federal and state levels can use to decide about investments. It can be misleading to remove them from their context and place them in conversation with other results such as state assessments.
Even worse, complacency can lead to destruction.
Comparing states across the country can lead to a false sense confidence for those at the top. It can also be demoralizing for educators working in lower-ranking states. This is not the ideal situation for educators who are already experiencing extreme burnout and unimaginable challenges.
Miah Daughtery, a researcher at NWEA, says that these types of comparisons can lead to people feeling demoralized and defeated.
Daughtery draws from her own experiences. She was a Las Vegas teacher, she says. When she saw that her state was near the bottom, it would make her feel depressed and unmotivated. She says, “That’s not inspiring.” “That’s not helpful.”
Lewis suggests that states should look for states that are similar to theirs that have made improvements. These states may be able to offer lessons.
She argues that the focus should be on what is ahead, and not what was gone before.
Lewis states, “I would hate for us to use these results to further litigate previous decisions and place blame on those who failed to,” “I believe we should be more reflective and consider how we can use this to make a better future.”
Other education leaders may be seeing the negative effects of ranking education.
Last week, Yale Law School and Harvard University Law School as well as University of California at Berkeley Law School withdrew their names from the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Heather Gerken, Yale Law School’s Dean, stated that these schools are often at the top of the list. However, the ranking system created “perverse” dynamics that were not related to improving their students’ education.