This is one of my favorite times of year. I love a good competition, and, still under the influence of post-holiday shopping and gluttony buzzes, the first part of the year lets me take my pick of head-to-head fun. Entertainment awards shows and major sporting events will keep my spirits high until MLB’s opening day.
I think the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence feels the same way I do about competition. The Prichard Committee is a private, nonprofit advocacy group in Kentucky, and in 2008, they challenged Kentucky citizens to move their commonwealth into the top 20 based on 20 different education indicators by the year 2020. I used to live in Kentucky and still have family and friends who reside there, so I’ve personally endured their jibes at Tennessee and its rank on some of Prichard’s education indicators. I love a good competition … as long as my team wins.
Prichard’s Top 20 by 2020 Campaign, and the ranks and information it presents, provides Kentuckians with a clear (though arguable) set of indicators on which they can gauge education progress.
Exploring the categories
Eight of the 20 indicators come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP, overseen and implemented by the commissioner of education statistics in the U.S. Department of Education and the National Assessment governing board, exists to provide a representative measure of “… what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.” You can think of it (as they do) as the nation’s report card.
The NAEP indicators of interest are reading, math, science and writing results for grades four and eight. Kentucky ranks highest in fourth-grade science (4th) and lowest in grade eighth-grade writing (36th), with the other indicators coming in at various ranks in between. Of course, we want to know how Tennessee ranks. Using the Prichard Committee’s methodology and source, we computed the ranks listed below.
But first, some background.
When you pull up Tennessee’s NAEP score report summary, you will see raw scores (the actual scores students in the state yielded on each respective test) and the percentages of students at different proficiency levels based on the raw scores. These two ways of looking at the data make for an interesting context. A close look will show that one, we are making progress; and two, that the progress is not as robust as that in other states.
For example, in 2000, Tennessee’s fourth-grade mathematics NAEP score was 220 with 18 percent of students testing at proficient or above. In 2011, the latest test year, Tennessee’s fourth-grade mathematics NAEP score was 233 with 30 percent of students testing at proficient or above. Although this is a positive trend, it is important to note that the 2011 scores rank Tennessee 47th in the nation (down from 45th place in 2009)—far from the top 20.
Here is the lowdown on where we rank on each of the eight NAEP indicators.
Our relative rank is dropping in five of the eight categories. Two of eight categories are not applicable right now because only one administration has occurred. In eighth-grade writing, we have some good news with a rank of 18, which puts us in the top 20 for that indicator.
Style or substance?
This information is substance for two reasons. First, NAEP is administered every two years (though there have been some variations on this pattern over the years), and in 2013, Tennessee students will be tested. Second, NAEP, because of its scientific approach to selecting participants and test administration, provides a very accurate picture of where our students are in terms of the tested subjects. NAEP is rigorous and gives us a glimpse at how we will do once assessments based on the new, more rigorous Common Core Standards are in place. Our performance on NAEP gives us a sneak peek at how we will do on Common Core-aligned assessments.
And the winner is …
Clearly, we have a long way to go. It is encouraging to see some improvement over the course of NAEP test administrations, and it is always enlightening to see how we compare to other states. We have time to address some of the issues around our low rank. Common Core implementation won’t happen until 2014 (maybe even later), and assessments of the new standards are still in pieces on the factory floor. Just like in any other competition, we can look to those who beat us for strategies and approaches. We have the benefit of good data. Forty-six other states (including D.C.) have signed on to the more rigorous standards, and that gives us almost an entire nation's worth of resources. It will be difficult, and moving up in the ranks is tough, but it sure would be nice to be in that top 20 …or at least ranked ahead of Kentucky. Education data may not be as glamorous as the Oscars or have as much action as the Super Bowl, but we think it’s worth watching closely.
Keith White is PEF Chattanooga’s director of research and effectiveness. Feel free to reach out to him by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.