National Assessment of Educational Progress

For more than two decades, the federal government has conducted tests of K-12 students in mathematics and reading known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Beginning in 1990, the federal government began calculating individual state results in those academic areas. in 1990, state-level results of the eighth-grade test in mathematics were published. In 1992, state results for eighth-grade mathematics and fourth-grade mathematics and reading were published.

This section reviews the 1992 scores for California and the four comparison states. While the NAEP results are perhaps the best data available to compare the relative status of educational achievement among states. the data do not permit a full explanation of the causes for any differences in the performance of individual states.

NAEP tests are designed to measure how well students "are able to meet standards of performance necessary for a changing world.", Generally, a difference of 15 points represents about one grade-level difference in achievement. in order to control for differences in state programs, some students identified as special education or limited-English proficient (LEP) were excluded from testing based on specific federal criteria.

As we discuss below, students in California did not do well on the NAEP tests-particularly the fourth-grade students. This low performance signals a pressing need to Understand why fourth graders scored so poorly. While the data are instructive, the fourth-grade test represents only one year of data. We hope the federal government continues the state assessments so that a longer record can be assembled.

Figure 3

  • California's 1992 NAEP scores are significantly lower than all comparison state scores-except for Florida's eighth-grade math score. California's scores are lower than national averages in all three tests, with the gap ranging from 6 to 13 points. The largest gap is in fourth grade reading.
  • California's fourth-grade mathematics score ranks 36th out of the 41 states participating in the testing program. its fourth-grade reading score ranked 40th out of 41 states-only Mississippi ranked lower. California's eighth grade mathematics scores placed the state 29th out of 41 states.

Figure 4

  • This figure (fig. 4) displays the type of communities fourth-grade students taking the 1992 NAEP resided in. These proportions are very close to the actual proportions of students living in these types of communities in these states.
  • California and New York have the highest percentage of students from "disadvantaged urban" areas-metropolitan areas in which a high proportion of students' parents are on welfare or are not regularly employed.
  • California has a moderately high percentage of students from "advantaged Urban" areas-metropolitan areas where a high proportion of students' parents are in professional or managerial positions.
  • "Suburban/Rural" areas include all other California communities, including urban areas that are not defined as advantaged or disadvantaged.

Figure 5

Figure 6

  • The figures (figs. 5 & 6) on the opposite page compare California's fourth-grade mathematics scores with those of other states and the nation. The figures (figs. 5 & 6) compare scores of two different groups: (1) tow-performing students (top chart)-the 5th percentile and (2) high-performing students (bottom chart)-the 95th percentile.
  • Scores for California's low-performing students are much worse than scores for low-performing students in the comparison states. The difference is 12 to 20 points, or about one grade level.
  • Scores for California's high-performing students are about the same as high-performing students in the comparison states. None of the differences for high-performing students represent meaningful differences in achievement.

Content Contact:
Candy Friedly
Office Manager
Institute for Education Reform
California State University, Sacramento
6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6018
tel 916.278.4600
fax 916.278.5014
Technical Contact:

Last Updated: February, 1994

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