New NAEP Science Scores Show Charters Work for Hispanic Students

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It has been six years since the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) released scores on their Science assessment for 4th graders and 12th graders and 4 years for 8th graders. Like most NAEP releases, there is a little good news and a little bad news. Since 2009, 4th graders and 8th graders have seen their scores go up by about 4 points, while there was no change for 12th graders. Gender score gaps have been nearly eliminated across the board and the gaps between Blacks and Whites and Hispanics and Whites have declined slightly at the 4th grade. The most exciting finding for me - the results show that charter schools work for Hispanic students. 

I have to admit it - I‘m a data geek and I love it when new NAEP results are released. I immediately download the tables I’m interested in to see what is going on with charter schools. One disappointment for me is that, while the NAEP assessment is given to a nationally representative sample of charter schools, the sample is small and, therefore, the variance around many of the charter school results make it difficult to identify statistically significant differences, especially at the state level. In other words, even though California 4th-grade charter school students had an average scale score of 155 and California 4th-grade non-charter school students had an average score of 140, we can’t actually say that charter school students did better than non-charter school students.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is some good news for Hispanic science achievement. For Hispanic 4th graders in charter schools, at the national level, their average scale score was 11 points higher than their non-charter peers (149 vs. 138 – and, yes, statistically significant). And 71 percent of Hispanic 4th-grade charter school students scored at or above Basic in science in 2015, compared to 61 percent for non-charters. At the 8th-grade level, Hispanic charter school students had an average scale score of 144, compared to 139 at non-charter schools (just barely statistically significant). Digging deeper, low-income Hispanic 4th-graders at charter schools scored 10 points higher than their low-income Hispanic peers at non-charter schools (143 vs. 133). Think about that – at the national level, low-income Hispanic 4th graders at charter schools are doing significantly better in science than low-income Hispanic 4th-graders at non-charter schools.

The “so what” of this is obvious, but the future of our country, to a certain extent, will depend on how well we are educating our students in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Hispanics are the fastest growing student group in our public schools and are projected to be nearly 30 percent of total enrollment within ten years. When surveyed, Hispanic parents say that, after the economy, education is the number issue facing our nation. Further, 85 percent of Hispanic parents favor allowing students their choice of public schools in their community, regardless of their address, and one in six Hispanic parents said that a charter school would be the number one choice for their child.

A 2015 study of urban school districts by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that urban charter schools generated growth equivalent to 22 extra days of math for Hispanic students, compared to their peers at non-charter schools, 48 extra days in math for low-income Hispanic students, and 72 extra days in math for Hispanic English learners. That charter schools are giving Hispanic students, and especially low-income Hispanic students, a leg up in science and math is a really big deal.


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