This news was devastating. Up until 2011, Texas had made gains in each administration of the NAEP for twenty years and had one of the best trajectories up for its students in the nation. Each subgroup of students had made so much progress over these two decades that they were all finally, and historically, within range of being at grade level for 8th graders. But, the drop from 2011 to 2015 was so bad that our black students lost approximately a grade level just in those four years, and Hispanic and white students lost roughly over half a grade level.
The Texas Education Agency put out this rather pitiful statement taking credit for gains that had been achieved by others in earlier years and acting as if this stunning recent drop that occurred on its watch had not even happened. http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2015/2015_NAEP_math_scores_strong_for_Texas_students/
As best I can tell, no political leader has yet bothered to express concern or any commitment to take action to put the state back on track. Of course, this is only the most recent of several measures showing stagnation or actual declines in student achievement in Texas, and all to a chorus of silence.
There has been no statement of specific concern from any public interest group about this huge loss in 8th grade math proficiency, at least not yet. I asked the leader of one reform group why they hadn’t issued a statement expressing specific alarm. She indicated that they had been advised that they couldn’t because this drop wasn’t statistically significant.
I began to wonder whether the rather acquiescent reaction across the state was due to this impression, so I asked some of the most respected experts in the nation whether indeed this precipitous drop from 2011 to 2015 was statistically significant or not. And the answer was that the huge drop from 2011 to 2015c was clearly significant statistically. Here’s the bottom line I was told:
The drop between 2011 and 2015 for each of the three group analyses is clearly statistically significant (p = .002; p = .01; and p = .001, where anything at or below .05 makes the cut). For example, you could say with respect to the Hispanic numbers that there is less than a 1 in 1000 chance that the reported decline is due to chance.
Friends, our 8th graders have lost significant ground in this key measure of high school math readiness. We no longer require our students to pass Algebra I exams, even at very low levels. We no longer require students to take math beyond geometry or create a strong incentive for them to do so. We no longer require students to take science beyond biology or create a strong incentive for them to do so. And we no longer measure for college or career readiness in math or hold ourselves accountable for graduating students ready for postsecondary in math. Our SAT and ACT results are flat or declining. And our postsecondary completions that had been growing nicely have flattened in the last three years.
All this is so, even though we live in a world in which many of the best jobs are in Science/Technology/Engineering/Math, and the competition for those jobs is intense and global.
But, what’s worse than all that is that one hears not a peep of concern from any quarter about our serious, recent losses. This is bad, and it’s statistically significantly bad. Whether it’s being hidden, washed over, or ignored so that you don’t hear about it, it’s real, and it’s menacing.