NAEP Scores Are Rising

School is annoying, but kids are getting better at it.
School is annoying, but kids are getting better at it.

Photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

New NAEP long-term trend data is out and the news is good (actual long-term trends are difficult to discern from this series since they changed the way the assessment works in 2004). Even if you look at the oldest cohort of students tested, progress is being made across the board.

Black 17-year-olds’ reading scores averaged 262 in 2004, and they’re up to 269 by 2012. White kids’ went from 289 to 295. Latino kids went from 267 to 274. In math, black 17-year-olds’ went from 284 to 288. White ones’ went from 311 to 314. Latinos’ went from 292 to 294. And as usual, if you look at 9-year-olds’ or 13-year-olds’ you see even more progress.

I’m genuinely uncertain as to where the state of the conventional wisdom is at this point. Do people think that dastartardly education reformers with their drill-and-kill teach-to-the-test approach are ruining public education, or do they think that dastardly teachers unions with their stuck-in-the-mud opposition to reform are responsible for ruining public education? Either way, the actual trend in American student achievement has been positive. It is difficult to establish any specific causal inferences from that, but it seems like evidence that things are improving overall. Maybe schools are changing for the better. Or maybe non-school factors are changing for the better. But either way, contrary to a certain kind of gloom-and-doom prognosticating about America the underlying trends are positive notwithstanding a horrible recession and other problems.