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Unlike most states, Indiana boosted eighth-grade reading scores on 2017 ‘nation’s report card’

Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education

Indiana’s scores on the “nation’s report card” haven’t changed much since students took the federal math and reading tests two years ago, but eighth-graders’ scores did jump slightly in reading.

The national exam serves as a way for states to see how they stack up to the rest of the country.

For 2017, the state was ranked sixth in the nation in fourth-grade math and 12th for eighth-grade math, down from a ranking of fourth and 11th, respectively, in 2015. In reading, Indiana students ranked ninth for fourth-grade and sixth for eighth-grade, up from 10th and 16th.

Despite those moves, most of the changes in this year’s scores don’t have “statistical significance” from 2015. That means they don’t necessarily indicate student achievement is any lower or higher this year than last time — the change might well be due to chance.

The one area of significant growth was in eighth grade reading scores — up 4 points compared to 2015. Few states saw similar progress in eighth-grade reading. One other notable change was that the gap between white and black students on the eighth grade math exam narrowed.

But Indiana is not unique in its flat scores this year — the 2017 results also showed stagnant scores for the nation as a whole. The U.S. has seen its test scores largely remain the same for a decade, after 10 years of substantial gains in math. The country’s “achievement gaps” between black and white students, and between low-income and affluent students, have also largely held steady over the past 10 years.

The test also breaks down student achievement by proficiency level. In both grades and subjects, fewer than half of Indiana students were considered proficient. However, higher percentages of Indiana students who are Hispanic, English-learners, or have disabilities were considered proficient than those same students in the nation as a whole.

2017 NAEP Math Results

2017 NAEP Reading Results

Indiana’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have stalled since big jumps in 2013, and policymakers should start asking themselves why, said Mike Petrilli, executive director of the conservative-leaning Fordham Foundation. One hypothesis? Frequent education policy changes.

“Indiana, in the beginning of this decade … showed some of the best progress in the country,” he said. “Has the chaos over the last few years, with all the debates about standards and tests and all kinds of changes, has that kept Indiana from moving forward?”

It’s hard to prove one way or another — especially since onlookers have also attributed Indiana’s past gains to sweeping policy changes of previous administrations.

The NAEP is administered by the federal government to a sample of students across the country. The most closely watched tests are the fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading exams, since they allow us to see how scores are changing nationally, in individual states, and in a number of cities.

The longer-run trends in NAEP are more positive. Nationally, scores have improved substantially in math and modestly in reading since the early 1990s.

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