Mass Nails NAEP, But More Work to Do


Once again, Massachusetts leads the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests — reports released today show that the Commonwealth leads the nation on math and reading for eighth graders. Let’s all celebrate the good news, right? From the Boston Globe:

“I am pleased to see our students, teachers and schools scoring high marks once again, including record scores for Hispanics and black students,” Baker said in a prepared statement. “Our administration is committed to delivering a quality education to every student in every ZIP code, and we will continue to strive for excellence to make our state the best place to learn and grow.”

Hold on Charlie, not so fast. As usual, the aggregate numbers tell us we’re on top — but when you dig deeper and take a hard look, it seems to me we’ve got quite a bit of work to do.

“Eighth-graders rocked the exams. Some 33 percent scored proficient or higher in math, 6 percentage points higher than the average for large school districts. Only three districts outperformed Boston: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Austin, and San Diego.”

Rocked the exams? Only 33 percent of 8th graders in Boston are proficient or higher in math. While that’s higher than the average large district — are we really content to only have 33 percent of our kids reach proficiency?

I’ll never understand why this is something to be proud of — I mean seriously, 67 percent of kids AREN’T proficient.

And as expected, black and brown children are being left behind.

“For instance, on the reading tests, 64 percent of Massachusetts’ fourth-graders who are Asian scored proficient or higher, and 60 percent of white fourth-graders did. By contrast, 29 percent of black and Latino fourth-graders scored at that level.”

Why can’t we seem to reach our black and latino children? And why can’t we start learning from the schools that are actually doing it when we can see the problem right in front of us?

And speaking of fourth grade — who now leads the nation on the fourth grade scores?

(In the graph above, the yellow is where the state should have landed based on demographic characteristics and the blue is where they actually landed. The complete report card is available here.)

Florida? OUCH.

And things seem to be getting even worse for black children in Boston.

“In Boston, school officials expressed concern about declining performance of black students on both the fourth- and eighth-grade tests, including a five-point decline on the grade four reading test since 2015.”

Now while it’s great to be able to brag that we’re number one in the nation, if we’re still under-serving kids, let’s hold off on the parade and get to work. Secretary Peyser is right on point:

“James Peyser, state education secretary, said the achievement gaps show that Massachusetts needs to “redouble our efforts on educational policy and education reform” and sees promise in some recent initiatives, such as bolstering the quality of early education and developing a new system to hold schools accountable for student performance.

“We need to do better,” he said. “We can’t afford to stay in place, even though we are at the top of the ratings.”

But we need more than tough statements. It’ll be interesting to see whether we see a real, direct plan of action from the new Commissioner to take this issue head on. Will he be brave enough to push past politics and bring the right folks to the table?

The one thing I know for sure — we can’t afford to wait much longer to get to work.  


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