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What does the NAEP mean to pre-k?

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Lead from the Start: What does the NAEP mean to pre-k?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What does the NAEP mean to pre-k?

Who reads the Wall Street Journal? Pretty
much anyone with any amount of political power reads it. So when the WSJ
publishes an Op-Ed you know that it is going to be read by the people who
will decide the future of public education in our country. A
recent piece, titled Protect Our Kids from Preschool, threw the pre-k world for a loop. It made a big enough splash that two of the biggest advocates and researchers of pre-k, David Kirp and Steven Barnett
responded in an Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. Other interested
parties in the pre-k community also sent replies to the WSJ.
Sadly, as pre-k folks like to practice what we teach in pre-k, they
were polite. The responses
included some pretty heavy hitters, including: Lawrence J. Schweinhart
of High/Scope and James Heckman of University of Chicago (who were
misquoted in the article), as well as Susan Urahn of Pew Charitable Trust, and
Libby Doggett of Pre-K Now who pointed out the misrepresentation of the

Then Dalmia and Snell fired back. "What!?" you say. Yes, they kept
arguing that they were right because what they wrote, that the National
Assessment of Educational Progress test scores had not increased very much
in Georgia and Oklahoma was true, that their main point is valid.

I feel like I am telling a class of preschoolers it's raining but, your point is not valid.


One concept I would like to point out in the provocative debate that
Dalmia and Snell have engaged the pre-k community in, is the relevance
of the NAEP. The two researchers suggest, by basing their argument on
the NAEP test results , that the NAEP is a valid indicator of preschool
effectiveness. Although a 2000 RAND corporation study found that pre-k
positively affected NAEP scores, this would not be the reason I would
recommend pre-k to a parent or policymaker. They suggest that one year
in a high quality pre-k should positively impact a test score 5 years
down the road. A test based on everything a student has learned up to
4th grade. I am a believer in the value of pre-k for many reasons but,
passing the NAEP is not one of them.

The NAEP is an important tool for policymakers and leaders to refer to
when making decisions about policy. Especially policy that relates to
the rigor of a states' standards. However, it is a poor indicator of
which "grade level" is not keeping up their part of the proficiency

Having taught in a public school setting my entire career I am keenly
aware of the importance of standards and accountability. We are told
every year, "The scores in 3rd grade and 5th grade are not the scores
of the 3rd and 5th grade teachers, they are the scores of the entire
school." Even though I teach beginning algebra, statistics, and reading
in my class, I am not the only one responsible if one of my former
students doesn't get the answers right on a test 5 years from now.

A study published by the Hoover Institute,
found that Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee had the lowest correlation
between the number of students achieving proficiency on state tests and
the number achieving proficiency on the NAEP. The study "graded" states
on whether their proficiency scores matched up to the NAEP. Here is an
explanation of the results:

We gauge the differences among states by comparing how students do on state assessments with how they perform on NAEP tests. By comparing the percentage of students deemed proficient on each, it is possible to determine whether states are setting expectations higher, lower, or equal to the NAEP standard. If the percentages are identical (or roughly so), then state proficiency standards can be fairly labeled as “world-class.” If state assessments identify many more students as proficient than the NAEP, then state proficiency figures should be regarded as inflated.

Not surprisingly, when states set low expectations for student proficiency, they did not score well on the NAEP.

Three states—Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—expected so little of students that they received the grade of F. The state of Georgia, for instance, declared 88 percent of 8th graders proficient in reading, even though just 26 percent scored at or above the proficiency level on the NAEP.

What does this have to do with universal pre-k in these states? It
means that even if pre-k is effective at preparing kids for the NAEP in
these states we could never tell because the standards in K -12 are not
high enough to pass the NAEP anyway.

What has improved as a result of pre-k in Georgia? One indicator is
that exceptional education enrollment has decreased each year since
2006. This improvement not only improves lives but saves the state money.

For more on the long lasting effects of pre-k check out the most recent report from the National Institute for Early Education Research titled: Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications.(PDF)

photo credit: courtesy of fragmented and

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