NAEP Scores and Students with Disabilities

The US Nation's Report Card is out. The NAEP exam taken by a nationally representative group of about 600000 students stands out from other standardized exams because the test is not high stakes. Since NAEP scores are not available at neither school nor individual level there is no incentive to prepare students for this exam. Students in classrooms can not be prepared or drilled for this test. Seeing scores that are generally flat for nearly a decade therefore says a lot with regard to recent efforts in improving basic education in the United States. The percentage of students passing basic, proficient and advanced levels has remained practically constant throughout the past decade. The following, for instance, shows the percentage of students scoring below basic (orange), at basic (light green), at proficient (green), and at an advanced (dark green) level in grade 4 and 8 math.

Grade 4

Grade 8
Above copied from the Advocacy Institute Blog
The graphs above are from the Advocacy Institute and it highlights results separately from students without disabilities and those who qualify for an individualized education program (IEP). Students with an IEP are students with disabilities. The NAEP exam is administered every other year. The above graph starts with 2003 results for students without disabilities followed by results for students with disabilities. It is impossible to mix up these two sets of students as the gap between students without and those with disabilities has remained almost constant throughout the past 12 years. For instance, in 2003 and for grade 4 math, 49 percent of students with disabilities did not reach basic level while only 20 percent of students without disabilities did not. That was a gap of 29 percent. In the latest exam, 2015, 45 percent of students with disabilities did not pass basic while 14 percent of students without disabilities did not. The present gap thus is 31, practically equal to the gap observed in 2003. The same holds true for Grade 8 math. Reading scores, by the way, show the same story.

The Advocacy Institute however points out another set of data that requires our attention to interpret the above results in a better light. Since 2003, the percentage of students with disabilities being excluded from the NAEP exam has been going down.

Above copied from the Advocacy Institute Blog

The above illustrates a sustained drop in exclusion rates. Students with disabilities have been increasingly represented in the Nation's Report Card yet scores are not really being pulled down by the increased participation of students with disabilities. Does this mean that basic education through the eyes of a special needs student has improved over the past decade? The fact that scores have been flat does not support this interpretation. What is clear is that excluding students with disabilities before was not necessary and that the gap has remained over the past dozen years.