2007 February 22 Thursday
12th Graders Doing Worse On US National Tests

Money and big national lies told by our elites have failed to raise standardized test scores of 12th graders in America.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - High school seniors take harder classes and earn higher grades than they used to but continue to fare poorly on achievement tests, according to reports released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

Nationwide, just 1 in 4 high school seniors tested in 2005 ranked competent in math and barely a third read at grade level, the reports show. Reading scores are the lowest since 1992, with students in the Western United States performing worse than those in the Midwest and Northeast.

Despite the decline in achievement, students take the equivalent of 360 more hours of class than seniors who graduated in 1990.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores provide still more evidence that the mainstream debate on social policy in America is conducted based on a set of lies about human nature.

Within America's Lake Woebegone mythology (or, if you prefer, Bright Shining Lie) how to explain the failure of more instruction hours, more instruction in advanced topics, and standardized testing to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of more money to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of charter schools to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act? After all, it had No Lie Left Behind. How to ignore the elephant called IQ standing in the room? Time for a new phrase, a new formulation. How about a "rigor gap"?

"How is it that our high school students can earn more credits, get higher GPAs, but yet not perform any better?" said David Gordon, member of the National Assessment Governing Board and Sacramento County, Calif., schools superintendent. During a Thursday press conference, Gordon termed the problem a "rigor gap."

The lies have some years to run yet. But the more vigorously the politicians try policies based on false assumptions the closer we get to the collapse of the old mythology.

We should be getting better if we live in wonderland.

The new reading scores show no change since 2002, the last time the test was given.

"We should be getting better. There's nothing good about a flat score," Winick said.

But our schools have gotten better at lying to parents about how well their kids are doing.

In 2005, high school graduates had an overall grade-point average just shy of 3.0 - or about a B. That has gone up from a grade-point average of about 2.7 in 1990.

Junior is getting better grades. Well, that's great news. What a nice lie those teachers are willing to tell.

The average kid was doing better in the good old days of 1992.

Nationwide, 73 percent of 12th-grade students achieved a ``basic'' reading score in 2005, down from 80 percent in 1992, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sampling test the government calls the ``nation's report card.'' Sixty-one percent scored at or above the basic level in math.

At the same time, 68 percent of high school graduates completed at least a ``standard'' curriculum, up from 59 percent in 2000, with the overall grade point average about one-third of a letter grade higher than in 1990, the department said in a report. The figures raise questions about the quality of the courses being taught at U.S. high schools, it said.

As Hispanics continue to grow as a percentage of the total population average NAEP scores are going to fall further. No educational reform can overcome the demographic force of ethnic groups which score lower in standardized IQ tests.

Steve Sailer says there's a wide gap between private beliefs and public utterances.

Here's the really fascinating thing about the broad support for NCLB.

In private, virtually every single person in America understands that human beings are highly diverse in mental capabilities.

They just won’t acknowledge it in public.

So why the massive widespread lying that forms the basis for educational policy in America? Liars who lie to protect the feelings of others are more popular.

Experiments have found that ordinary people tell about two lies every 10 minutes, with some people getting in as many as a dozen falsehoods in that period. More interestingly -- and Libby might see this as the silver lining if he is found guilty -- Feldman also found that liars tend to be more popular than honest people.


Saxe found in one experiment that nearly 85 percent of college students had lied in the course of a romantic relationship, most often about another relationship. (These were lies that people voluntarily admitted to Saxe, which means the actual number of lies and liars was probably higher.) Nearly to a person, the liars said they were trying to protect the feelings of someone they cared about.

But on some topics where the lies get translated into government policy the lies are very damaging. We need more honesty. We are hurting ourselves with these lies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 February 22 10:39 PM  Education

Mensarefugee said at February 23, 2007 2:01 AM:

Thomas Sowell wrote about the earliest experience of his of a similar kind of lie in his autobiography "A personal odyssey".

As segregation was breaking, he was asked to go to a summer camp, he asked the adult who had chosen him if there would be other black kids there. The adult replied in the affirmative, but when he got there he was the only coloured kid.

Not only do people lie to protect others feelings, more importantly they lie when they think it is for a good cause - classical liberal mindset.

Kenelm Digby said at February 23, 2007 5:50 AM:

If you think your American elites are lying and mendacious in terms of falsifying and manipulating school matriculation exam results, well they cannot hold a candle to the British.
Thirty years' ago only a very small minority of British students went on to university, most (around 90%) left at 16 to find work.The standard required to pass what were called GCE 'O' and 'A' levels was tough and these qualifications were only held by a few.
Fast foward thirty years.British politicians decide that 'at least 50%' of youngsters must attend university.Guess what? now at least 50% have five or more " 'O - level " equivalents and three A-levels.Yet the politicians insist that this is due to higher educational levels generally.

Kurt9 said at February 23, 2007 10:13 AM:


Its called grade inflation.

This is why kids are failing the standardized tests even though they are taking more difficult "advanced placement" classes. The teachers, back by their union, keep making these advanced placement classes easier and easier to pass, thus rendering them shams.

In Washington State, we have our own state standardized test that the teachers union lobbies against each and every year.


SamC said at February 23, 2007 3:32 PM:

In a fairly homogenous society the belief in natural human equality can be accommodated as a species of “salutary dissembling”, but once you combine a multi-racial society with this falsehood, it is no longer salutary at all. It appears to bien pensant people to be a necessary lie to keep the peace. They don’t seem to know what else to do. This is the kind of thing that happens when a false doctrine is central to your culture.

Jerry Martinson said at February 24, 2007 2:01 AM:

While there will always be differences between individuals due to a variety of causes that have nothing to do with schooling, I still think that there's a lot of opportunities to dramatically improve educational attainment in this country. The problem is that we don't know what works. I think taking a look by doing some sort of giant statistical Markov chain Monte-Carlo analysis to reveal the "hidden variables" causing latent effects will be the key to figuring it out.

There are several examples that show that a real substantive change can be made if we can just figure out what really matters at a young age. I have no idea if these things could scale up but to me it shows that there are real opportunities for improvement that (mostly) we don't fully understand yet how to replicate:

1. The huge US1.1Billion dollar Project FollowThrough longitudinal study showed that there was one type of elementary education pedagogy (direct instruction marketed under DISTAR) that showed dramatic positive results in lower income children, even several years after children had left the program. In fact, high-school graduation rates were significantly higher despite this being 10+ years later. An often-cited spurious initial claim that it also increased criminal tendencies was later soundly debunked and is often used by advocates of student-directed learning to suppress the program. Sadly, in my opinion, this approach isn't being used enough. I hope that there's a silver lining in NCLB's requirement for "evidence based pedagogy" and the "Whatworks" clearing house that will eventually get this straightened out. The other pedagogical approaches that FollowThrough studied didn't have much difference between them.

2. The _real_ story of Jaime Escalante (i.e. the "Stand and Deliver" guy) shows that it is possible not only to get very large numbers of low-SES kids to pass the AP calculus exam, but also that those students can succeed at unusually high rates in college. However, a teachers efforts are going to eventually be thwarted by the system we have. An accurate article (the movie doesn't show it well) exists here:
sadly, it seems little real effort has been made to "clone" his approach other than applaud it.

3. Homeschooling seems to produce dramatically better results (even after the home-school period has ended) compared to public and private schools (oddly enough, there's little difference between public and private performance when you control for SES). Unfortunately, since it is a self-selecting group, the real effectiveness of home-schooling is very difficult to understand. Also it obviously won't scale up as the opportunity cost of missing one parent's income is enormous. However, we can look at homeschooling as a guide to what is achievable and figuring out what (likely harmful) effects of same-age peer group socialization have on student performance.

4. Even Judith Harris's Nuture Assumption book discusses Eigel Pedersen's study of the downstream effects of a 1st grade teacher "Ms. A" whose students not only performed better at 7th grade but also into adulthood compared to the other students in the school. What magic did "Ms. A" have compared to the other teachers? Can it be replicated somehow?

5. When you compare US student scores to other countries, one thing that stands out to me is that while the US may be lagging in general from K to 5th grade, it isn't really lagging by much until you get to early adolescence. It seems that this is where we really lose it. I think that this is due to a cultural phenomena of children's peer influences beginning to have a much greater role than parental/teacher influences at this age. Part of this is natural human nature and will occur in all cultures. But I think that there is something particularly unique about US early-adolescent culture that makes this transition much more damaging to academic performance than it is in other countries. What strikes me as odd is that parents of children before the age of 10 seem very interested in their children's education but after that, they seem to burn out. The larger enrollment of children in private school at young ages compared to older ages seems to confirm this. What happens to a kid from 6th to 8th grade in terms of social peers sets the tone for much of the rest of that kids life.

Almost all the debate over the math wars and reading wars seems to focus on kids 10 years and younger leaving early/mid adolescent educational debate to basically cover non-academic-performance stuff like reconciling a community's religious beleifs with the science and sex ed curriculum. While there were and still are a lot of problems in elementary education such as student-directed learning pedagogy, whole language, etc..., a big problem is that in the US it is uncool to be smart when you're 12.

The state of California has fairly consistent testing throughout the state. The data is presented in raw form and then there is a "similar school's rank" which is very revealing as it attempts to control for SES. Sometimes this data can show a lot of very interesting effects. If I compare my very diverse school district to a neighboring one that is characterized by being Chinese-immigrant-culture dominant, I see that the neighboring one has higher performance when controlled for SES. Of course, this isn't surprising. But what is surprising is that the SES-controlled difference is relatively small at K-6. But in high school, the other district really pulls ahead and mine goes to hell. I've heard anecdotes that in the other district that you can't be considered cool unless you are smart. I know that in the district I'm in that it's more like the rest of the US-academic achievement is shunned. I bet this has a lot to do with it.

Randall Parker said at February 24, 2007 8:55 AM:

Jerry Martinson,

We could collect far more useful data about school performance by controlling for IQ of students. Currently most studies pretend the kids are biologically equal in capability. Use of SES partially controls for genetic influences. But we need better measurements (e.g. IQ tests, brain scans for total brain volume and gray and white matter mass and distribution) to control for potential of kids.

If we can control for the cognitive capacity of kids then we can measure how well each method of instruction allows kids to reach their cogntive capacities.

Also, I'd love to see a lot of research on the effects of nutrition, sleep, and exercise on measured IQ and capacity to learn. Maybe the effect of staying up late to watch TV and play video games is having a substantial effect on lowering average performance. Also, maybe junk food is doing that too.

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