CONCORD — New Hampshire’s fourth- and eighth-graders tested worse in math and reading than they did two years ago in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education, though New Hampshire children still test better than the national average.
States across the country reported declines in reading and math scores in the assessments, which allow the U.S. Department of Education to compare states. Test data is not used to assess individual students.
The data showed students who receive free and reduced-price lunch — children from poor households — scored lower on the tests than their wealthier peers. Black and Latino students, on average, scored lower on average than white and Asian students.
Dianna Terrell, chair of St. Anselm College’s education department, said test scores are closely correlated to family income and housing security.
Average scores on the test dropped between 2017 and 2019, and have not improved since 2013.
In a short report, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut wondered if the Common Core standards, implemented around that time, could explain the decline. Department of Education spokesman Grant Bosse said the commissioner wanted to explore the issue further.
St. Anselm professor Diana Sherman, who specializes in math education, said it was common for people to blame standards or curriculum for declining math scores. But she said math instruction is a more likely culprit.
“We are under-preparing teachers to teach math,” Sherman said, noting the problem is linked to the shortage of math and science teachers in New Hampshire.
Terrell agreed. “This is an issue around teacher training and preparation,” she said.
There are other factors at work too, she said.
Terrell said students may not be taking the tests as seriously as they used to — particularly tests like this one, which have no effect on the academic standing of individual students.
“There is a growing national impatience with standardized tests,” Terrell said.
In response to Edelblut’s report on the scores, the National Education Association-New Hampshire, one of the teachers’ unions in New Hampshire, questioned the value of standardized tests.
“As long as we continue to use standardized tests as the only measure of student achievement, we will be leaving far too many kids behind,” said Megan Tuttle, president of the association. “Reasonable people understand a single test score does not define student learning.”
She said that Edelblut had not done enough to help children living in poverty, and those affected by the opioid crisis.
Bosse said he did not want to get into a back-and-forth with the union, but said the Department of Education is interested in supporting parents, because the education levels of parents are also closely correlated with student test scores.
“We need to look at the students who aren’t being served by the system,” Bosse said.