Results from the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put into doubt many NYS Education Department (NYSED) and NYC Department of Education claims of “substantial” student progress in fourth and eighth math and reading based on State-developed exams. This year’s NAEP announcement showed that progress in New York State has remained nearly flat in eighth grade math and both eighth and fourth grade reading, with a modest improvement only in fourth grade math.
According to the New York Sun, NYSED spokesman Tom Dunn defended the State's annual progress assessments by saying that concerns about lack of sufficient student progress suggested by the NAEP results are “flat-out wrong.” In fact, it is his arguments dismissing the apparent discrepancies between the NYSED exam results and those revealed by the NAEP -- that only about 2% of New York students in each grade take the NAEP exams and each student only takes a portion of the test -- that are flat-out wrong.
Apparently, Mr. Dunn has never heard of statistical sampling as a means of drawing inferences from larger populations. Perhaps he has is not aware that most surveys and polls are conducted in a similar manner. Maybe he has never read the small information boxes the New York Times inserts with its CBS News/New York Times surveys showing that statistically reliable national polls can be taken with fewer than 1,000 Americans. It could well be that he is also not aware that a random sample of just 1,200 – 1,500 people gives results which are mathematically provable to be well over 99% reliable. As a point of comparison, a mere 350,000 students across the U.S. participated in these most recent NAEP exams.
The NAEP tests, administered in all 50 States every two years, are the closest thing in America to national, standardized exams in math and reading. These exams are universally respected by educators for their consistency, reliability, and lack of an underlying political agenda. They are the only such exams immune from local gubernatorial, legislative, or mayoral pressures to "prove" the positive progress those politicians want. For Mr. Dunn to besmirch the NAEP and its national and state level testing methodology as somehow inadequate and unrepresentative demonstrates that even the NYSED can hide behind mathematical ignorance in order not to hear or see a problem. Then again, perhaps their goal is to render adults in New York State even more mathematically ill informed than they already are at the same time they are claiming such admirable improvements in children’s mathematical understanding.