Nation’s Report Card: Flat Scores for Students with Disabilities

This spring scores were released from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federally mandated measure of student performance commonly referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.” The assessment, done every two years, is administered to a representative sample of more than 580,000 4th and 8th graders nationally.

How did students with disabilities fare on this latest version of the NAEP? Disappointingly, not much better than on the previous 2015 assessment, and still significantly below their peers without disabilities.

As reported in a recent Education Week blog, the 2017 scores for students with disabilities were stagnant:

  • Fourth-grade students with disabilities earned an average of 187 on the NAEP’s reading test and 214 on the NAEP’s math test, both of which are scored on a 500-point scale. 
  • For 4th-grade students without disabilities, however, the average score was 227 on the reading test and 243 on the math test. 
  • Eighth-grade students with disabilities earned 232 on the reading test and 247 on the math test. Reading was a small bright spot—that score was a 2-point gain for students with disabilities from the last time the test was administered, in 2015. 
  • But the reading test scores of 8th-grade students without disabilities also rose, by 1 point. Their average score was 271 on the reading portion of the test and 288 on the math section of the test. 
Students with Disabilities Going Nowhere

A statement from the Advocacy Institute underlines the serious nature of these findings: “In fact, the majority of students with disabilities (67%) performed in the ‘below basic’ achievement level in all 4 areas.” This continues a pattern evident in the 2013 and 2015 Assessments. 

And yet, despite stagnant scores over multiple years of NAEP administration, high school graduation rates for students with disabilities has reached new heights: 67% earned a regular diploma in 2017, up 7% compared to 2016. 

While each state is responsible for establishing its own graduation standards, the disparity between the two data points raises concerns that must be addressed. Says David Johnson, who studies graduation requirements for students with disabilities, “We need to ask the question, what’s really going on? We don’t have the answer.”