University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

NAEP: What Have we Learned Thus Far?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2018 at 1:33 pm


In light of the fact that the 2017 NAEP Results will be released next week (and which may be lower than hoped), here at OEP we thought it fitting to examine Arkansas’ performance over time. A recent article posted by Education Next highlighted states that have experienced statistically significant changes (positive or negative) in their NAEP results from 2011 to 2015. Arkansas experienced a significant decline in the 4th and 8th grade math scores but had no significant change in reading scores during that time.  In examining the scores at the racial subgroup level, there were statistically significant declines in Math scale scores among White Arkansas students in 2011 to 2015. We like more data, and take a look at Arkansas’ NAEP scores since 2003.

Overall Trends

In November 2015, OEP released a Policy Brief that highlighted Arkansas’ NAEP scores over the years.  Figure 1 presents the scores for 4th and 8th grade math and reading since 2003. Over time, Math scores have increased slightly but have decreased by 5 and 3 points in 2015 in 4th and 8th grade respectively. Reading scores, however, have remained fairly unchanged in 4th and 8th grade exams.

Figure 1: Average Scale Score on Arkansas’ NAEP Exams, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 1

In comparison to bordering states, Arkansas students showed varying trends depending on the grade and subject over the years. Figure 2 below presents the comparison by grade and content areas.


Figure 2: Mean NAEP Scale Scores for Arkansas, Bordering States and the US, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 2

In 4th grade math, Arkansas students initially scored lower than their peers in bordering states in 2003, but surpassed their scores consistently until 2013. In 2015 however, Arkansas decreased its scaled score by 5 points which put them 4 points lower than that of the bordering states.

In 8th grade math a different trend emerged. In 2003 Arkansas scored 5 points less than students in bordering states, however over time, the scores steadily increased to match that of the bordering states, decreasing slightly in 2015.

In 4th grade reading, Arkansas students scored slightly higher than the bordering states, except in 2009 where they scored similarly. Arkansas students’ scores increased some between 2003 and 2005 but remained fairly consistent until 2011. In 2013 there was a slight increase in scores, but the scores declined a bit in 2015.

With 8th grade reading there were essentially no differences between Arkansas students and students in the bordering states over time. A slight decrease can be seen for Arkansas students in 2015.

Subgroup Trends

We thought it would be helpful to look at the NAEP results over time at the sub-group level to determine whether or not there were significant gaps among racial groups, free/reduced lunch eligible groupings, or gender group.

Racial Gaps

Between 2003 and 2015, Arkansas reduced the score gaps between white and minority students, but the gap closure was a result of a 2015 decline in the scores for white students. Closing the gap by lowering performance is not good news for Arkansas.

As presented in Figure 3, Arkansas’ White-Black gap in 4th grade math scores was reduced four times more than the national gap within that time period. Arkansas had reduced the gap by 12 points within that time period whereas nationally, the gap only reduced by 3 points. A similar trend that emerged for 8th grade math and all reading scores in that time. Once again, it should be noted that the gap closure was a result of lowering the performance of white students in 2015, and is not good news for Arkansas.

Figure 3: National and Arkansas’ Trend in 4th Grade Math Scale Scores, White and Black Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 3

Figure 4 presents the White-Hispanic gap in 4th grade math between 2003 and 2015. Again, Arkansas had a smaller gap than that nation, and Arkansas narrowed the gap by more points than that of the nation (although this was due to decreased performance of white students). There are some slight differences among the other grades and subject areas over time as the gap widened slightly in Arkansas, specifically in 2007, before narrowing from then on. Though there was a widening of the gap, Arkansas still had a lesser White/Hispanic gap in comparison to the nation which is some positive news.

Figure 4: National and Arkansas’ Trend in 4th Grade Math Scale Scores, White and Hispanic Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 4

Gaps based on Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility

Between 2003 and 2015, Arkansas reduced the score gaps between students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch and those who were ineligible for the program, but this again was the result of decreased performance of higher-achieving students.

The trend illustrated in Figure 5 for 4th grade math students nationally and in Arkansas is representative of similar trends that emerged in other grades and subject areas. The gap based on FRL eligibility increased slightly from 2003 but remained fairly consistent over time.  In 4th grade math and reading, the gap began to narrow slightly in 2013 and persisted in 2015, due to declining performance of the ineligible students.

Overall, Arkansas does have a slightly smaller gap in comparison to the national values. 4th grade math students show approximately a 24 point difference between the two groups, and there is a similar value for 8th grade math students.  Nationally, 4th grade students have shown a 28 point difference between the two groups and a 24 point difference in 8th grade.  The national gaps have remained consistent over time.

Figure 5 National and Arkansas trend in 4th grade Math score and gaps based on Free/Reduced Lunch eligibility, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 6

Gender Gap

The Arkansas gender gap is similar to the national results. As presented in Figure 6, Arkansas’ males and females have consistently performed similarly in 4th and 8th grade math since 2003.  Arkansas’ reading gaps mirror those found across the nation, with females scoring 7-10 points higher than their male peers.

Figure 6: Arkansas’ Trend in Math and Reading Scale Scores and gaps between Male and Female Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 5

To summarize, since 2003, Arkansas’ NAEP scores haven’t changed much and generally mirror the performance patterns we see across the nation and in our bordering states.  In 2015, the score gaps between racial and poverty groups became smaller, but only as a result of declining performance in the higher-achieving group.

Be sure to tune in next week to learn what the new results say for Arkansas!


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