The U.S. Department of Education released 2022 results for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which measures fourth and eighth grade students’ achievement in reading and math in individual states. Louisiana’s results, compared to results published in 2019 when the test was last given, were as follows:
On the surface, these results look good. Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley seized the moment to announce big gains in reading with a press release titled, “Louisiana Shows Country’s Largest Gains on Nation’s Report Card: Louisiana ranks No.1 in nation for improvement in 4th grade reading.” He’s right to brag; Louisiana did increase in this area while most other states did not, and that’s a testament to the hard work being done to prioritize reading at all levels across our state.
Others were quick to point out that Louisiana’s educational rankings increased in all grades and subjects. Yet this was not because of much real improvement, but because other states suffered worse declines. Louisiana’s overall ranking “increased” from 49th to 43rd overall.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which publishes the results, presented a different takeaway for Louisiana, showing that the state had “no change” in all but 8th grade math, in which the decline was “significant.” The agency deemed the increase in 4th grade reading and the declines in 4th grade math and 8th grade reading as “no significant difference since previous assessment year.” The agency used p-values – statistical measurements used in many studies and reports by government agencies – to determine statistical difference. A p-value of 0.05 or lower is generally considered statistically significant; all of Louisiana’s changes in NAEP results failed to meet this test except for 8th grade math.
This also explains why many were struggling to reconcile these results with 2022 versus 2019 LEAP scores. These results showed no gains have been made in 3rd grade English language arts (ELA), and that 4th grade ELA scores have dropped one percentage point for those scoring at proficient (Mastery) levels and above.
In a state plagued by poor outcomes for years, it’s understandable to want to jump for joy when any good news comes our way. Look no further than the LSU fans that rushed the field after beating Ole Miss – yes, Ole Miss – this past weekend.
But we need to be careful in celebrating less bad news as good news. Louisiana still ranks among the bottom of states for educational outcomes and has a long way to go. Whether you look at NAEP or Louisiana’s LEAP scores, you’ll see that over two-thirds of our students still aren’t performing at proficient levels. While there have been incremental positive changes over the years that have been celebrated, that growth just isn’t happening fast enough to give thousands of Louisiana kids what they need to thrive as they continue along their educational journey, transition to college, and enter the workplace.
Big change is going to require big action – like wisely spending the $4 billion in federal education recovery dollars our state has received. Let’s not squander that opportunity. Let’s give Louisiana’s people something to really celebrate: big wins for our kids.
Erin Bendily is vice president for Policy and Strategy at the Pelican Institute