With testing backlash gripping the country — even prompting President Barack Obama to weigh in — there is one set of exams that education leaders agree is the gold standard.
The National Assessments of Educational Progress stand as a constant measure of student achievement against a backdrop of ever-changing state benchmarks.
The results, released Wednesday, were impressive for Miami-Dade County.
Even as scores across the country experienced an unprecedented slump, Miami-Dade students posted gains in almost every area tested. In fact, the country’s fourth-largest district largely outperformed its other big city peers, posting higher than average scores in most categories.
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“This is the gold medal you can hang around the district’s neck, and this is a gold medal that belongs to every student, every teacher,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Fourth- and eighth-graders take the NAEP in math and reading every two years. The exams also break down the performance of 21 large districts, including Miami-Dade.
In fourth-grade math and reading, and in eighth-grade reading, Miami-Dade students performed higher than the average public school student in large cities. The only outlier was eighth-grade math, in which district students were on-par with their peers.
The performance earned Miami-Dade praise from Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, a national organization of large urban school districts.
“The Miami-Dade County Public Schools simply hit the new NAEP test results out of the park,” Casserly said in a statement. “The school district’s gains were among the fastest in the country of any major city and were across the board, even as state and national numbers were trending downward.”
Florida did not post the same improvements as its largest district. Statewide, performance was flat or lower in all tested areas.
But there was some good news for the Sunshine State. Students did as well as the national average or better in almost all categories. Only in eighth-grade math did students score below the national average.
Across the country, math scores were down in both grades. In reading, performance sagged among eighth-graders and remained flat in fourth grade.
“It was the first time that we’ve had significant declines in the mathematics exams,” Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, said during a conference call with reporters.
Carr and others urged a long-term view of the data, which show steady improvements since the 1990s. This year also marks the first time NAEP was given after many states moved towards new, tougher learning standards.
“Educators throughout this country have been doing the heavy lifting of some of the biggest changes our schools have seen in decades, retooling their classroom practice to come up to speed with new and higher standards that the large majority of states have adopted,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during a conference call with reporters. “I’ve said on a number of occasions that we should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that ‘implementation dip’ is part of what we’re seeing here.”