National Assessment Results Highlight How Income Inequality Affects Learning

OLYMPIA–October 30, 2019–Today, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only test K–12 students take nationwide, released 2019 results. The NAEP assessment measures students’ academic progress in grades 4 and 8 in math and English language arts.

Students discuss a math problem in a classroom.
Students discuss a math problem in a classroom.
Students discuss a math problem in a classroom.

Being the only test taken by students across the nation, it’s the only one where a valid comparison between states can be drawn. In the 2017 NAEP cycle, Washington students outperformed their peers, even ranking within the top 10 for 8th grade math and English language arts.

In the 2019 assessment, most states saw a slight dip in average scores from 2017, including Washington.

“I always turn to NAEP results to make comparisons between the academic performance of our students and their peers nationwide,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “What the results don’t tell us, though, is the reasoning behind the numbers.”

“For example, almost the entire nation saw 4th grade reading scores dip this year,” Reykdal continued. “While it’s comforting to know we aren’t the only ones facing this, it’s tough to draw conclusions about what’s causing that trend.”

In comparison to other states, Washington’s 4th grade students’ performance stayed near the average.

Washington’s 8th grade students, meanwhile, continue to outperform their peers nationwide, ranking near the top 10 in math and English language arts.

Effects of Opportunity Gaps

The 2019 data also highlight a gap in performance between students experiencing poverty and their peers.

Washington’s students are top performers nationally when it comes to 8th grade students who are not experiencing poverty. When comparing Washington’s students experiencing poverty to students experiencing poverty across the nation, our students perform near the average.

“Our students face systemic barriers to their success related to income and poverty,” Reykdal said. “This is evidenced by the fact that our wealthier students are ahead of their peers nationally, while our students experiencing poverty are near the national average.”

“There are many reasons for this, and although they can’t all be solved at school, we have work to do in providing equitable access to a high-quality public education and enrichments for all students.”

“A prime example of this inequity is in our school funding system. Two years ago, the Legislature added a ‘regionalization’ factor to the school funding model — providing enhanced funding to school districts with higher property values in order to adjust educators’ salaries for the higher cost of living in those areas.”

“This was an important step to ensure educators can afford to live in the communities where they teach,” Reykdal continued. “An unintended consequence of adding this factor to the funding model was the creation of a model where districts with the most wealth receive even more from the state on a per-student basis.”

“The primary way we work to eliminate barriers based on poverty and provide equitable opportunity is by asking the Legislature to invest in supports that we know move the needle for students — and to prioritize limited funding to serve students experiencing poverty first.”

About NAEP

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, is the only assessment that is taken by students in all 50 states.

The assessment is administered to a representative sample of students in grades 4 and 8 every two years and measures their academic performance in math and English language arts.

Washington’s sample this year is made up of about 3,500 public school students.

For More Information

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Except where otherwise noted, content by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. All logos and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Written by

Led by Supt. Chris Reykdal, OSPI is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state.

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Except where otherwise noted, content by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. All logos and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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