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Forget the Edu-Wonks. NAEP Scores Should Get the Attention of Workforce Development Leaders
There is no shortage of buzz in the education policy world about the scores from the 2017 NAEP exam. But the people who really ought to be thinking about the results from the so-called “Nation’s Report Card” are the ones in charge of developing the workforce in a state or community.
Everyone in the education world is parsing out the reading and math scores in the latest edition of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). There is no shortage of buzz in the education policy world about the scores from the 2017 NAEP exam, which continue a national trend of stagnation over the last decade. Solid history and analysis can be found here and here, and a thought-provoking piece on public perception is here.
But the people who really ought to be thinking about the results from the so-called “Nation’s Report Card” are the ones in charge of developing the workforce in a state or community. If you are involved with that task in places where scores went down (like Maryland, Montana, Vermont, and Alaska to start), you must wonder about the repercussions. Who is going to supply the innovation, skill, and know-how for your state’s businesses if kids are falling behind? What does this mean for your region’s economic vitality in 10 and 20 years?
Data like NAEP scores can appear arcane and hard to apply practically. But we know that students don’t suddenly become dropouts in high school; going off-track happens far earlier in their school years. So, if it is your job to think about tomorrow’s workers, paying attention the progress – or lack thereof – of your state’s fourth and eighth grade students in reading and math is a must.
This kind of data can help those in governors’ offices, workforce commissions, and Chambers of Commerce shape their policies, strategies, and partnerships. If we see drops in fourth grade and then eighth grade, as we do in many places, those kids are very unlikely to be prepared for a good job, service in the military, an industry certificate, or a two-year or four-year degree.
To conclude with some good news, Mississippi particularly stood out. They had the largest gains for white fourth- and eighth-graders in reading. They had gains in reading and math for black fourth-graders. Something interesting is happening there that is worth understanding and sharing. If you are involved with workforce issues in Mississippi, it is important to ask how can your state can sustain that important fourth-grade momentum through eighth-grade and beyond.
The people in the education policy world will always find things to talk about with NAEP data. Andy Rotherham succinctly captured the education policy echo chamber quite nicely. The people who can make a real difference by using NAEP data are those who must identify and develop workers for their state’s future. The business community was a meaningful partner in the education reform movement in the 2000s when accountability policies were strong and NAEP scores were ascending, particularly for our most vulnerable children. Their role still matters – and workforce development is often where the results of education policy often become tangible.