As ever, the coverage of the latest NAEP geography test scores had a pretty pessimistic tone. But to me this looks like progress:
Something to note here is that under No Child Left Behind, there’s a lot more testing of younger kids than of high schoolers, so if your concern is that “drill and kill” testing practices are narrowing the curriculum, there’s scant evidence of it here.
Another way of looking at this is through the lens of parental educational attainment. For eighth graders, that looks like this:
Very little change here. What you do see is a decline in the number of very low performing students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. That’s not a great result, but it’s something. It’s always worth remembering that in a very large and diverse country, it’s difficult for policy interventions to work on all problems simultaneously. Improving the performance of the weakest and most disadvantaged cohort of students probably requires different steps from those that would improve the number of high-performing kids with college educated parents.
Clearly, though, the real issue here is whether these strong gains at the fourth grade level will pass through on to higher ones. I also note that the 12th grade questions really do seem quite hard!