The recent release of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides results that should give all Oregonians cause for great concern.  Most NAEP measures for Oregon students are disheartening.  Oregon is now one of five states where the overall achievement gap widened between 2003 and 2011.   Additionally, low-income students in Oregon rank among the lowest performing in the nation and have lost ground since 2003. This information invites questions that should be in the forefront of Oregon’s attempt to restructure educational delivery. What will it take to declare a statewide breakdown?  What is Oregon’s commitment to close the achievement gap?

NAEP Report Overview

Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is the only tool we have to assess which states appear to be making progress in academic achievement. While we recognize the limits of NAEP, simultaneously the results should not be ignored.  One advantage of this national assessment is the opportunity to assess progress over time. Another dimension of interest is the opportunity to disaggregate results and examine how different student subgroups fare compared to others across the country.

Achievement Gap Results

To offer a context of Oregon’s performance and overall achievement gap, it may be instructive to compare and contrast Oregon with other states. What are the trends we see with a high investment state like Maryland?  This is a state where the Governor and state leaders have made a concerted effort to increase investment in K-12 public education and identify specific state outcomes for all students. What are the differences we see in a low-investment state like Arizona, where the investment-per-pupil is one of the lowest in the nation? And how do these data compare to national averages?

Prior to examining student achievement results, we should have a look at investment and demographic indicators. The following chart offers a glimpse of some of these factors:

With these factors in mind, let’s turn our attention to Maryland, Arizona, national averages, and Oregon’s performance over the last eight years. In the charts below we see performance by all students, as well as specific subgroups identified by NAEP.



These trends are not an aberration. What we see in the fourth grade is largely mirrored in the eighth grade as well. To see the additional charts, click here.

Moving the Achievement Gap Conversation Forward

Oregon is not closing the achievement gap. Especially disturbing to us, in many cases the gap is growing wider.  Why is it that students from other states, even a low investment state like Arizona, appear to be making greater progress? We have no evidence that the rates for poverty, mobility, special needs, or second language learners in Arizona are any lower than we see with Oregon students. Whether the comparison is based upon a high investment state like Maryland, a low investment state like Arizona, or broader national trends, the stark truth is that Oregon’s NAEP measures show us losing ground.

These are our children. What will it take for Oregon to declare a breakdown? When will we demonstrate the courage to take ground on specific, measurable statewide goals for our children of color?  Which elected leader will step up and demand that we set a clear state goal for African American high school completion? Reducing the Latino dropout rate? Elevating the college preparedness rate for our children in poverty?

Until we set explicit statewide achievement gap goals while overtly and publicly sharing in accountability, we doom our students to continued mediocrity. At a minimum, we have an obligation to learn from other states making progress. As Oregon leaders wrestle with governance, accountability, and breaking down the barriers of adult-based silos, we cannot lose sight of our larger purpose. Ultimately, it all means nothing if we have not boldly improved learning and success for ALL kids.

Aside from these initial actions, we know more steps are needed.  We invite students, parents, educators, and community members to shape this conversation and our commitment to Oregon’s students.

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3 Responses to “The Oregon Achievement Gap: What will it take to declare a breakdown?”

  1. kona says:

    Does the increasing class sizes (fewer teachers) have any room in this conversation.

  2. Rex Hagans says:

    Interesting post. It is good to see us compared to states other than Colorado for a change!

    Like Kona,I would like to see class size comparisions included in this conversation. And also some discussion of how the work of the new Oregon Investment Board does and/or does not relate to your perspecitves on what we need to do.

  3. Ron Smith says:

    No doubt that there is an achievement gap in Oregon as in all other states. But the NAEP data must be interpreted with caution in this regard. The assessment was not designed to provide insight into these matters for some technical reasons.

    The technical limitations include, first, the basic snapshot approach which assesses different groups of students over time (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011) without equating the characteristics of the groups. It is not likely that the students tested each year are identical in aggregate.

    Second, the state samples are always small and the sub-group samples are much smaller, generally representing the proportion of the sub-group in the larger population. All of these techncial factors add measurement error to the results which can be and probably are significant.

    As a result, comparing sub-group means across states can not be done with confidence. The NAEP was not designed to produce accurate measures of sub-group performance. However, the politics of NCLB forced NCES to publish the comparisons anyway – unfortunately without the measurement error data needed to guide interpretation.

    Regretfully, the NAEP data don’t give us much insight into achievement gap issues, either within our state or in comparison to other states. The fact is that we don’t have strong enough evidence to draw meaningful conslusions.

    I am not at all suggesting that we should do nothing about the achievement gap. Quite the contrary. However, I do assure you that the NAEP data provide a weak anchor for justifying a call to action. Oregon State Assessment data are much more compelling and with the addition of some companion data concerning cognitive ability, could provide a solid foundation for setting goals for reducing the various achievement gaps.

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