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Earlier this week, the National Center for Education Statistics released its biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress for each of the 50 states. These congressionally mandated assessments are recognized as the nation’s report card, and are administered to a sample of students across the nation to measure academic achievements. Nationally, scores in mathematics have decreased for both fourth and eighth graders since the last report in 2013 but, have increased for both grades since 1990. In comparison to 2013 reading scores, fourth graders did not show improvement, meanwhile scores for eighth graders decreased. These scores have, however, increased overall since the first reading assessment was administered in 1992.

The students of Texas showed some improvement since the last assessment in 2013. Fourth graders improved their math scores and ranked 11th nationally. Their scores in reading didn’t show change, and placed them in 40th place. Texas’ eighth-graders, on the other hand,  didn’t show improvement in reading or mathematics, ranking 23rd and 39th in each subject, respectively. These rankings are all based on raw data, which doesn’t account for the demographic standing of these students. If we take this data as it is, we assume all students are similar in terms of academic preparedness and socioeconomic background.

In a study conducted by the Urban Institute, author Matthew Chingos argues these scores do not account for shifts across demographics. He argues that if these scores are adjusted appropriately, what we see is academic improvement. Chingos states, “I also find that NAEP scores in all 50 states have increased more than would be expected based on demographic shifts between 2003 and 2013.” While unadjusted data leaves Texas low in the rankings, once adjusted for demographic shifts, Texas shifts to third in the nation. As Chingos explains, “A relatively large share of students in these states come from demographic groups that tend to score less well on NAEP. But, as the results show, these students score better than similar students in other states.” The adjustments are based on student-level data rather than state-level data, which includes factors such as race and ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, the language spoken at home, amongst other things.

These adjustments are necessary to demonstrate the advancements our students have made. The raw data not only discounts their efforts, but the efforts put forth by their teachers, faculty, and administrators as well. While these scores are easy are dismissed as disappointing, they do not account for the hardships students overcome both outside and inside the classroom. Ideally, students would be able to take full advantage of the public education system, but often times they are faced with real-world hardships that leave them unable to do so. Every student has a community striving to improve their education and quality of live, and that cannot be negated.