While the newest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that on average New Jersey students remain among the top performers in the country and that there were some notable gains in certain areas, we should not be ready to celebrate just yet.
New Jersey remains one of the leading states in the nation in terms of our overall proficiency rates, but we also continue to be one of the worst states when it comes to our achievement gap. To break out of this pattern, we need to ask tougher questions. We can’t stop at “how are our students doing?” Instead, we must ask which kids are doing well relative to others, and then ask why.
In New Jersey, the answers to these questions reveal a troubling pattern: Students of color and low-income students have generally lagged behind their white, more affluent peers. This year, in some cases, the gaps between those groups of students have grown, as our analysis on the NAEP data shows. In particular, these gaps have widened at the fourth grade level for several groups, and that is cause for concern. We need to dig deeper to understand why those gaps are widening.
However, we should also note that there are some real signs of progress embedded in the data as well: At the eighth grade level, there appears to be remarkable success for Latino students. In math, Latino students gained 11 points and in reading, 10 points. It’s this kind of remarkable progress in closing the achievement gap we need for all student subgroups at all grade levels and in every subject.
We hope that trend continues and that we can learn from the progress made so that all kids will eventually see the same gains. Just as we strongly recommend that others look at both the positive overall findings and the more detailed, disconcerting findings, we too will be digging deeper to understand why these gaps and gains are occurring and what can be done to address them.