Stuck In The Middle: Missouri’s Academic Gains
Last month, a few notable education scholars released a study titled Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance. The study uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and three tests used for international comparisons. These data allow them to compare the United States growth in terms of academic achievement with 48 other developed or developing countries. They also compared states to one another. Essentially, they are estimating how much more students in the same grade know now than they did 14 years earlier.
From 1995 to 2009, they estimate students in the United States gained “just short of the equivalent of one additional year’s worth of learning among students in their middle years of schooling.” While these gains may appear large, when they are “compared to gains made by students in other countries, the progress gains within the United States are shown to be middling, not stellar.” In all, 24 countries ranked higher than the U.S. in terms of growth and 24 ranked lower.
Missouri ranked 27th in terms of academic growth among the 41 states for which data were available. Thus, Missouri is a middling state in the middle of a middling country.
Some might claim that Missouri is faltering because we underfund education. These authors tested the funding theory and they claim “the data offer precious little support” that achievement growth can be attributed to money.
So what accounts for some states growing more than others? A variety of factors may have contributed to each state’s academic growth, including low states catching up and general economic growth (as we know, Missouri’s economic growth has not been stellar). There is also some suggestive evidence that states like Florida and North Carolina, which have enacted numerous education reforms, are seeing more growth than states that resist education reform.
One thing is certain: we cannot get out of the middle with our current strategies. We need to try something new.