The 2015 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for grades 4 and 8 were greeted with both disappointment and frustration. Despite years of reform strategies and millions of dollars in public and private investment, average student performance in math slumped at both grades for the first time in 25 years
Although the 2015 scores for both grades and subjects were still higher than in the early 1990s, the declines since 2013 stirred immediate speculation about causes. How has implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) affected NAEP performance?
The American Institutes for Research (AIR) studied the alignment between the mathematics test items
on the 2015 NAEP at grades 4 and 8 and the content of the CCSS. A panel of mathematicians,
classroom teachers, math supervisors, and math educators reviewed all of math test items in the 2015
NAEP item pool for these grades and attempted to match each item to an appropriate standard in the
CCSS. The items were classified as matched, not matched, or uncertain, according to the majority of
the review panel. Presumably, students in CCSSadopting states would have a reasonable likelihood of
being taught the content in the NAEP items that were included in the Common Core for the tested
grade or a lower grade. If a particular NAEP item was not represented in the CCSS or was included in
the standards for a higher grade, then students most likely would not have received instruction in that
content.
The AIR alignment study reported several interesting findings:
The AIR alignment study reported several interesting findings:

 Overall, the alignment between NAEP and the CCSS was reasonable at grade 4 and strong at grade 8. The percentage of NAEP items represented in the CCSS for the same grade or a lower grade was 79% at grade 4 and 87% at grade 8.

However, the alignment between NAEP items and the CCSS was much lower for certain
math content areas. NAEP categorizes the content of its math test by “subscales,” including
number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and
probability; and algebra. The lowest rate of alignment was in the area of data analysis,
 However, the alignment between NAEP items and the CCSS was much lower for certain math content areas. NAEP categorizes the content of its math test by “subscales,” including number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra. The lowest rate of alignment was in the area of data analysis,
 statistics, and probability—47% of the items in this area were matched at grade 4 and 74% at grade 8. The match rates at grade 4 were also low for algebra (62%) and geometry (68%).
 • Most of the NAEP items that were not matched to the CCSS were covered by the Common Core standards at a higher grade than the tested grade in NAEP. The exception was in data analysis, statistics, and probability at grade 8, where a substantial majority of the items did not match the CCSS at all.
The AIR study also looked at alignment from the other direction—what percentage of the Common
Core standards in math through grade 4 or grade 8 can be matched to at least one NAEP item? Since the
CCSS are intended to guide instruction, students may
not have an opportunity to learn the content assessed
by NAEP if it is not represented in the standards for
their grade or a lower grade.

The extent to which standards in the Common Core are represented on NAEP items was
reasonably high at grade 4 but much lower at grade 8. The percentage of Common Core
standards through grade 4 that could be matched to at least one NAEP item was 77%; the
comparable figure through grade 8 was just 58%.

Some content areas of the Common Core are not well represented in NAEP. At grade 4, the
Common Core content area with the lowest percentage match (57%) between the standards
and NAEP items was operations and algebraic thinking—an area of knowledge that is central to
the progression from arithmetic to algebra, according to the AIR authors. At grade 8, the areas
with the lowest match were ratios and proportional relationships (50%) and statistics and
probability (41%).

A closer look at NAEP math results by subscales reveals a reasonably consistent pattern of
greater score declines in content areas that are less well aligned with the Common Core. Of
the four content area/grade level combinations that had match rates lower than 75% in the AIR
analysis, three showed a drop in average NAEP scores of 4 or 5 points from 2013 to 2015. These
included data analysis, probability and statistics at grades 4 and 8, and geometry at grade 8; the
exception was algebra at grade 4.
These findings about alignment between NAEP and the Common Core in math suggest that many students may not have had an opportunity to learn important subsets of knowledge and skills before taking the NAEP test. This could help to account for the lower scores on some subscales. No similar current study has been done for reading and English language arts, however.
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