New NAEP test scores are out for grades 4 and 8. Because the NAEP is such a trusted low-stakes test, you’re going to hear a lot about what these new scores “mean.” Maybe even from me! But here’s the one thing you need to know before you read anyone telling you that these scores prove that standardized tests are good (or bad) or that Arne Duncan is an idiot (or a hero) or that teachers unions are a mess (or a godsend): the change in test scores was tiny.
Over the long term, NAEP scores in both math and reading have increased steadily and substantially. However, they’ve always bounced around by a few points both up and down in every cycle. This isn’t to say that the 2015 scores are meaningless, but you should pay no attention to any sensational declarations from any side in the ed wars. This year’s scores are a downward blip, something we’ve seen before. It will be many years before we know for sure if they’re anything more than that.