Private Schools: MIA
Earlier this month the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), popularly known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” released results of reading and mathematics assessments administered to a nationally representative sample of 9-year-old students in Winter, 2022. The numbers were daunting. Reading scores registered their largest drop since 1990, while scores in math showed a statistically significant decline for the first time in the nearly-50-year history of NAEP’s Long Term Trend assessment (LTT).
The LTT is typically administered to students ages 9, 13, and 17, once every four years. It was last conducted for students age 9 in Winter, 2020, immediately prior to the widespread disruptions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the timing, the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, decided that a repeat administration in Winter, 2022 – immediately after schools across the nation had resumed in-person instruction – would offer a unique opportunity to gauge the impact on learning associated with the pandemic-related disruptions. In this manner, a sort of pre-test, post-test design could be implemented with relative ease. While a steady trickle of state data had begun to suggest substantial and widespread learning loss, none of the findings were nationally representative. That changed with the release of the LTT data.
Here’s how some of the nation’s leading press and media sources reported the LTT results:
New York Times: The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading
Wall Street Journal: Reading and Math Scores Plummeted During Pandemic, New Data Show
Washington Post: American students’ test scores plunge to levels unseen for decades
U.S. News & World Report: New Federal Achievement Data Shows Grim Trajectory for Country’s 9-Year-Olds
Boston Herald: Editorial: Biden should declare education emergency
What about private schools? How did America’s private school students stack up in comparison to their public school peers? Unfortunately, we don’t know. Not because private schools weren’t invited to participate in the assessments. They were. But too few agreed to participate. While some did, their number was too small to be nationally representative. This is both a shame and a disgrace.
We take pride in observing that one in every four K-12 schools in the United States is a private school. We rightfully assert that private schools have long made significant contributions to the American educational landscape. We call ourselves partners in the education of the public, noting that private education serves the public interest. But when the public is interested in us, too many of our schools turn a deaf ear.
We chafe at insinuations that our schools are exclusive, yet we exclude ourselves from participation in our nation’s assessment of what its school children know and are able to do. We pride ourselves for our leadership in the field of community service, but when our schools are asked to render national service, we’re missing in action. Not only are we shirking our civic duty, we are flunking the Nation’s Report Card by default. Lack of participation in NAEP is not only a self-inflicted black eye, it’s a staggering lost opportunity to make the value proposition for private schools writ large. And that’s the shame of it.
It’s a shame, because participating in NAEP is so easy. Just about the only thing a participating school needs to do is to provide tables or desks and chairs. Staff from the National Center for Education Statistics travel to the school to administer the tests, on dates chosen by schools within a multi-month window. Only a relative handful of students within a sampled school will actually take the assessments, which require no more than two hours to complete. The proctors bring the laptops used to administer the tests along with them to the schools. They even bring routers.
The NAEP assessments are “low stakes” tests. Scores aren’t reported for individual students or schools. Assessment items aren’t based on state standards. There are no NAEP prep books, no for-pay courses on how to ace the NAEP, no NAEP tutors for hire. Yet, NAEP is internationally acknowledged as the gold standard for large-scale assessments owing to its overall methodical rigor, and the validity and reliability of its findings. And of critical importance, NAEP provides the one set of tests that permit legitimate apples-to-apples comparisons between the nation’s public and private school students.
“Main NAEP” results for 2022 will be released in late October. Let’s hope that a sufficient number of private schools will have participated so as to make the reporting of results possible. More importantly, let’s see to it that we never have to worry about lack of participation in the future. If your school is invited to participate in any of the upcoming NAEP assessments, consider it an honor, and an opportunity to render service to our nation. Just say “yes!”
Note: The commentary and views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of the California Association of Private School Organizations, or its members.