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Need to reverse this trend

April 28, 2016

Last week, Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. finished a complicated rule-making process for the nation’s new federal law for K-12 students. Good thing, too, because lawmakers emerged from the fog of bureaucratic procedure in time to see U.S. students’ test scores are not improving.

Let’s hope the new law and those rules are good ones because we need to reverse this trend.

The nation’s leading indicator of average student success is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education Reported that fourth- and eighth-grade students scored lower in 2015 than in 2013.

One student’s test score on one test does not make a trend, and even one year’s worth of regress, on average, is not cause for alarm. But there’s more to the story.

Fourth-grade student scores in math have either stayed the same or declined year-over-year since 2007—nearly a decade. In eighth grade, scores declined compared to 2013 and 2011, essentially on a plateau since 2009. Between 2007 and 2016, a class of students moved from kindergarten to eighth grade, completing nearly three-quarters of their K-12 career.

One snapshot of student test scores on one day can only tell us so much about the overall health of public education in the U.S., but, still, thousands of students’ test scores on multiple tests across a decade matter.

Federal researchers tell Politico there is another trend to worry about, and this one is unique: the lowest-performing twelfth-graders are separated from their higher-performing peers by an even larger gap than in previous years. There is more distance between students scoring at the highest and lowest ends of the achievement spectrum just as they get ready for college or the workforce.

For researchers and policymakers, small test score dips over time may not be reasons to panic. National averages are composed of thousands upon thousands of scores and are difficult to steer, especially from the nation’s capital (and especially in an election year).

What about my child, though? For parents, if a child comes home with a low grade once, that’s cause for warning and means more help studying. But nearly 10 years of no improvement or steadily declining grades? We need things to turn around for our kids today.

No single policy idea is going to change the scores of 49 million public school students. But families should not have to wait a decade before enough good ideas are enacted to help students succeed. Fortunately, lawmakers may provide some parents with more ways to act immediately: Sen. John McCain has introduced a bill to give Native American students, a student group that has struggled for years to find quality educational options, the chance to use education savings accounts to decide when and how they learn. Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz has introduced an bill to create the savings accounts for Washington, D.C. students. Some state legislatures are still in session and considering giving families quality choices with the accounts, including lawmakers in Delaware and Minnesota.

Lawmakers shouldn’t let rulemaking or elections bury the lead on the state of student achievement in the U.S. More parents and students should have the chance to use education savings accounts to act now and determine their futures.  



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