WASHINGTON—The NAEP scores reflect two overarching trends that have been converging over the last two years to the detriment of student and school performance: economic and school-budget devastation and a fixation on accountability rather than on teaching and learning. Increases in poverty, declines in real income for most families, cuts in education budgets and unprecedented educator layoffs threaten the student performance gains made since 2003. It is truly a testament to the hard work and dedication of educators that performance since 2009, while largely stagnant, didn't go backwards. Separate and apart from the economic issues, the flat scores may also suggest the limitations of emphasizing top-down reform and narrow accountability measures, rather than the strategies and building blocks necessary to improve teaching and learning.
A further look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2011 Trial Urban District Assessment results tell a tale of two different strategies with two different results.
In Baltimore and Hillsborough County, Fla., where performance improved, the districts embraced shared accountability, a collaborative culture, and providing teachers with the support and resources they need to succeed. Baltimore has been able to narrow the achievement gap in math, and Hillsborough County has done so in reading.
Conversely, in New York City and Washington, D.C., where scores generally declined, there has been a notable focus on top-down accountability, in adversarial climates with little support and collaboration. Sadly, black/white and Hispanic/white achievement gaps in both reading and math remain wider in Washington, D.C., than in other large cities.
Even in these tough economic times, Baltimore and Hillsborough County show us that following the evidence of what works for teaching and learning will help prepare our kids to compete in the knowledge economy.
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