Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.


Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Indiana’s scores are disappointing and mirror the state’s recently released ILEARN results.

In 2019, only 37 percent of Indiana 8th graders demonstrated proficiency in reading and math on NAEP. In 4th grade, 37 percent of students achieved proficiency in reading, while 47 percent were proficient in math. Average scores in reading declined and average scores in math held relatively steady since the test was last administered in 2017. While average scores in math have gone up over time, Indiana’s performance in reading has held steady since 2002.

What’s more concerning, the gap in achievement between students of color and white students, and between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers, persists. In some cases, the gap continues to widen. For example, in 2019, 8th grade students who qualified for the National School Lunch Program had an average math score that was 26 points lower than students who did not, compared to a gap of just 17 points in 2000.  Once again, these gaps in achievement mirror ILEARN gaps.

While NAEP is taken by a nationally representative sample of students every two years and does not provide individual student-level data, the assessment provides a common measure of student achievement across states and is useful for national comparisons.

Indiana’s average NAEP scores in 4th and 8th grade math and reading remain above the national average scores, as well as most states’ scores, but the divide is narrowing. Indiana’s rank in 4th and 8th grade math and reading has fallen since 2017.

In our increasingly global economy, Indiana students will be expected to learn and do more than ever before in order to succeed after high school. 2019 NAEP scores – like this year’s ILEARN scores – serve as a call to action to identify and address the root causes that contribute to low proficiency scores.

As I’ve written previously, we can start by looking at international best practices as outlined in the 2016 report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures, called “No Time to Lose.” The keys to Indiana’s future include a purposeful focus on high-quality early childhood education, teacher preparation programs that combine content knowledge with practical learning experiences through residency programs, the implementation of teacher career ladders in K-12 classrooms, and an intellectually rigorous career-and-technical education system aligned with employer demand. By taking a systems-level approach to improving education outcomes, it is possible for us to raise proficiency levels for all Hoosier children.

Yesterday’s NAEP scores, combined with this year’s ILEARN results, make it clearer than ever that we need to pursue an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, across sectors, if we are going to make meaningful strides for Indiana students.

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