The NY Times has fun with some new state test proficiency results. This headline and lead are a nice setup:
Connecticut Students Show Gains in National Tests
High school seniors in Connecticut performed better last year on federal math and reading tests than their counterparts did four years earlier, but New Jersey and most of the nation remained flat in both areas, according to exam results released on Wednesday.
Eventually we get more detail:
Thirty-two percent of Connecticut seniors were proficient in math last year, up from 29 percent in 2009, and 50 percent in reading, up from 43 percent.
In New Jersey, math and reading proficiency rose by two percentage points each, to 33 percent and 41 percent, a change considered insignificant from 2009.
So Connecticut went from 29 to 32 in math, which was significant for statistical and headline purposes; NJ went from 31 to 33 in math (beating CT in both years) that is a statistical Nada whoch leaves them among the also-rans. Whatever.
The Times also offers this little math puzzle:
In reading, 38 percent of seniors across the country achieved proficiency last year — compared with 40 percent in 1992, the first year for which data on seniors was available. The lack of progress was striking since elementary- and middle-school students have shown some growth during that time, as have graduation rates, suggesting that learning gains were wearing off in the high school years even as more students were earning diplomas.
Early onset-Alzheimers' might be one answer. But for the numerically inclined (which excludes most reporters but not James Taranto), it might be worth considering the possibility that if graduation rates have gone up (good!) then drop-out rates have gone down. That is also good, but... if, as seems probable, high-school drop-outs are more likely to be among the less academically oriented, then a lower drop out rate will lead to depressed test scores for 12th graders (how many kids have dropped out by 8th or 4th grade?).
Do the math.
OK, THIS IS SCARY: The Times was recycling some astute analysis from the Bright Lights at the DOE?
"Despite the highest high school graduation rate in our history, and despite growth in student achievement over time in elementary school and middle school, student achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years...."
GRIST FOR THE MILL: The WSJ provides some numbers and context amidst the hand-wringing:
Lower expectations for what graduates should study and know are part of the problem, Ms. Orr said. Meanwhile, more students are staying in school: The graduation rate was about 81% in the 2011-12 school year, up from 74% in 1991-92, according to the Department of Education.
The latest 12th-grader test scores showed ethnic and gender gaps remain, with non-Hispanic white students outperforming blacks and Hispanics in both reading and math. Some experts point to a demographic shift as an influence on the average scores. Among the test takers, the percentage of Hispanic students rose to 20% in 2013 from 7% in 1992, while the share of white ones fell to 58% from 74%.
Average scores by ethnic group are available, as is that trend over time. As a 'fun with numbers' matter of arithmetic it is possible that all three groups mentioned above are showing improvement even though the "average" remains flat. However, at the NAEP website where the data by subgroup is available, there is a lot of flatlining of the reading scores since 1992.