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New Mexico posts gains in key national education assessment

New Mexico has bested all but two other states and the District of Columbia on the math portion of the biennial National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), posting improvements among fourth- and eighth-graders.

Known as the nation’s report card, NAEP far better gauges student subject comprehension than state standardized tests and is often used by researchers to point out the somber state of K-12 education in the U.S.

The national average among fourth graders was 240; New Mexico students posted average scores of 233. Still, that is the closest the state has come to the national trend since 1996. Eighth-grade scores trailed the national average by nine points, 274 to 283, but the gap is also the closest since 1996. Meanwhile, state scores rose faster than the national average.

Still, New Mexico’s students have much on which to improve. Among fourth graders, 48 percent of the state’s white students are proficient or above, which trails the national trendy four points. Among Hispanics, the result is 23 percent to the country’s 24; Blacks 19 percent to the nation’s 17; and Native American students lag considerably, 15 percent to 24 percent.

Among students who qualify for a federal lunch subsidy, scores trailed the overall average and the national average for students deemed low-income.

Here is a breakdown of reading scores from the state snapshot offered by the Dept. of Ed. In brief, scores remained flat among fourth-graders in the state compared to 2009, and are down from 2007, 208 to 212. Eighth-graders improved from 254 to 256, trailing the national average by eight points. Here’s more information on fourth0grade scores:

In 2011, the average score of fourth-grade students in New Mexico was 208. This was lower than the average score of 220 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in New Mexico in 2011 (208) was not significantly different from their average score in 2009 (208) and was not significantly different from their average score in 1992 (211). In 2011, the score gap between students in New Mexico at the 75th percentile and students at the 25th percentile was 48 points. This performance gap was not significantly different from that of 1992 (47 points). The percentage of students in New Mexico who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 21 percent in 2011. This percentage was not significantly different from that in 2009 (20 percent) and was not significantly different from that in 1992 (23 percent). The percentage of students in New Mexico who performed at or above the NAEP Basic level was 53 percent in 2011. This percentage was not significantly different from that in 2009 (52 percent) and was not significantly different from that in 1992 (55)

Over at the Shanker Blog, Matthew Di Carlo lays out the limitations of NAEP scores:

What I would like to see is for people on both “sides” to acknowledge that, no matter how the results turn out, they can’t be used to draw even moderately strong inferences about what works and what doesn’t. The main NAEP assessments provide a snapshot of math and reading performance among fourth and eighth graders at a single point in time. Even broken down by subgroup, the data can mask serious shifts in the conditions and characteristics of students taking the test. This is especially true given that the past two years are marked by severe economic hardship among U.S. families, as well as massive budget cuts to public education.

More importantly, test scores at this aggregate level – across entire states – cannot be used to make arguments about the causal impact of specific policies. There are just too many intervening factors, inside and outside of education policy, that can influence test scores. You can make suggestions, and present tentative evidence, and that’s all great. But you can’t draw anything resembling strong policy conclusions using these data alone. Period.

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