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What Can the 12th Grade NAEP Reliably Tell Us?

You might have heard that the 12th grade NAEP scores came out last week, and they weren't anything to jump up and down about. As that news rolled out, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP policy, is still working to determine whether that exam can be used in a new way: to tell us something about how well prepared students are for work or college. (See my story about it here.)

A troubling thread, however, continues to weave itself through conversations about using the 12th graders' NAEP scores as a gauge of their academic mastery, let alone their college or career readiness. For years, the credibility of the exam at that grade level has been shadowed by the question of how hard high school seniors really try to do well on it.

So it boils down to this: Does the NAEP show how little they care, or how badly educated they are? And in light of that, should we even keep administering the test? And can we rely on it as a thermometer of preparedness for higher learning or good jobs?

If you're intrigued by this, take a listen to what Diane Ravitch has to say. An education historian and former NAGB member, Ravitch argues in her blog for edweek.org that the 12th grade NAEP results are meaningless. (While you're at it, read the comments section of her blog post, as well. She and her readers volley back and forth on the topic a bit.)

Most every week, something ends up in my inbox about a new tool or test recently developed to measure college or career readiness. Florida has figured out a way, apparently, to gauge high school students' readiness for the state college system. The Educational Policy Improvement Center in Oregon has developed a tool that school districts can use to assess their students' college readiness in ways that extend past strict subject mastery. (See a post on our College Bound blog for more on this.) (EPIC's approach to readiness includes habits of mind that NAGB's strictly-academic definition excludes.)

How well will any of these gauges tell us what we want to know about our students? Good question, and one that hangs over NAGB as it moves forward with figuring out how to use NAEP.


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