NAEP Report Card Tracks Student Gains and Changing Demographics in ‘Mega-States’

In recent years, student performance in America’s largest states mostly matched or fell below national averages on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading, math, and science. However, when examined over 20 years, their progress has been significant, according to a new report.

For the first time in its history, NAEP released a report on “mega-states” that examines the educational performance of students in the five most heavily populated states — California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. Students in these states comprise about a third of the nation’s public school student population.

NAEP focused on “mega-states” not only because of the size of their population, but also because they serve more than half of the nation’s English language learners (ELL), as well as some of the largest concentrations of children from lower-income families. The states all have large numbers of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students, and each state has large concentrations of students in urban areas. In fact, 8 of the 10 most heavily populated cities in the nation are in these states.

“Over the past 20 years, the nation has experienced large changes in the composition of our student population, as the percentage of White students has declined substantially while the percentage of Hispanic students has tripled in size,” says Jack Buckley, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. “Nationally, the proportion of eighth grade White students fell from 73 percent to 54 percent, while the proportion of Hispanic students rose from 7 percent to 23 percent. Much of this change has occurred in the five Mega-States.”

According to the report, mega-states generally do not perform higher than the nation, but some states have made some significant gains over time. Data are from the NAEP assessments in reading, mathematics, and science from 1990 to 2011.

·         New York scored higher than the nation in grade 4 reading, but lower in grade 4 mathematics and grade 8 mathematics and science.

·         Texas scored higher than the nation in grade 8 mathematics and science, and lower in reading.

·         Florida scored higher than the nation in grade 4 reading, but lower in grade 8 mathematics and science.

·         Illinois scored higher than the nation in grade 8 reading, but lower in science.

·         California scored lower than the nation in reading, mathematics, and science.

Slow and Steady: Closing Achievement Gaps

When looking at the performance of specific student populations in the five mega-states compared to the performance of the same student groups nationally, a more detailed picture emerges.

For example, fourth grade Black students in California increased their average reading score by 28 points from 1992 to 2011, a larger increase than Black students achieved nationally.

In Florida, score increases for both Black and White students were larger than the national increases, comparing 1992 with 2011.

In New York, Hispanic 4th-grade students increased their score by 25 points from 1992 to 2011, larger than the national increase for Hispanic students over the same time.

At grade eight, Black students in Florida increased their average score by 12 points from 1998 to 2011, exceeding the national increase.

As policymakers and educators look at the nation’s changing demographics and explore ways to close achievement gaps, the educational progress of children in these states is of interest far beyond their state borders, say NAEP researchers.