Jun 14, 2016 11:25 AM

Being white and affluent causes NH students to drop from 2nd to 25th in the country

For all New Hampshire students who take the National Assessment of Educational Program test, better known as NAEP tests, don't be too upset with your results.

A recent analysis of NAEP scores from across the country shows New Hampshire students finish second in the country, but because New Hampshire is white and wealthy, those scores are adjusted down and it puts the Granite State at 25th over all.

The Deseret News National reported the results of these tests is used to inform policy and is not used to judge the progress of any teacher, school or students. However, NAEP scores are used to compare one state to another and can shape debate among policymakers, educators, and parents.

These tests are given to fourth- and eighth-graders and once in high school to students in some New Hampshire school districts. They test mostly English and math. When scores are reported and adjusted based on demographics and students' social economic backgrounds, the Washington-based Urban Institute says the actual results of these tests can change the results of where a state finishes overall.

"When you adjust the data, the list looks pretty different," said Matt Chingros, a senior fellow the Urban Institute. "There are still some of the usual suspects at the top, like Massachusetts, but you have a whole bunch of states that get bumped down because they have lots of students who tend to do better on the exams."

The report cited New Hampshire which drops from a second to a middling 25th when adjusted. Meanwhile, its next-door neighbor, top-ranked Massachusetts, barely budges, holding onto the top spot.

Many researchers are quick to use test score data to confirm policy agendas. In this past month, for example, National Public Radio has touted the outcomes of educational experiments in Massachusetts that seem to have moved that state from the middle of the pack in the 1980s to the forefront in recent years.

And it is true that Massachusetts did rise and stay near the top for the past decade. But Chingos is very careful to not draw too many conclusions, even out of his demographically corrected data.

Some might say Massachusetts excels because it has strong teacher unions, Chingos says, while others will attribute its test scores to accountability reforms in the 1990s. Then there is the NPR report that focused on increased spending in poor districts.

"There are always stories you can tell," Chingos said, "and the NAEP data don't distinguish between those stories."

For now, Chingos argues, it is enough to see the scores more clearly so research and policy debates can start on a more firm foundation.

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