News resource and opinion website, The Daily Beast, recently took a look at the test scores for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and came to some conclusions about which US state is producing the smartest kids.

By measuring the percentage of students who scored highly on the fourth and eight grade reading and math sections of the NAEP and also taking into account the average number of states that performed better in relation to how that state performed, they were come to some conclusions about which states are producing the top students. Here is the sample comparison that the Daily Beast provided between Massachusetts (which performed best out of all 50 states) and Mississippi (which performed poorly).

Massachusetts
4th grade students at or above the advanced level, Math: 12 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 0
8th grade students at or above the advanced level, Math: 17 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 0
4th grade students at or above the advanced level, Reading: 13 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 0
8th grade students at or above the advanced level, Reading: 5 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 0
Average number of states that performed better than Massachusetts, per test: 0

Mississippi
4th grade students at or above the advanced level, Math: 2 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 47
8th grade students at or above the advanced level, Math: 2 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 48
4th grade students at or above the advanced level, Reading: 4 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 35
8th grade students at or above the advanced level, Reading: 1 percent
Number of states that performed better, at a statistically significant level: 46
Average number of states that performed better than Mississippi, per test: 44”

According to the Daily Beast, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Minnesota were among the top performers while Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Mississippi feature poorer NAEP test scores. While I’m sure that many of the residents of the “winning states’ might want to do a little fist pump for all the little Good Will Huntings that made the results possible, it’s hard to do so when considering the part poverty had to play in the creation of the test scores.

The Daily Beast is quick to point out that the definition of “smart” is a inexact term and that states with lower levels of child poverty generally performed better on the NAEP, which should sound familiar to some of the research we discussed in “Education Heartbreaker: It’s Not You, It’s Poverty”. According to data put together by George Bracey which measured how students performed on the international PIRLS test taken by 10-year-olds in 35 countries against how many students in a school were on a free or reduced lunch program, students with lower levels of poverty performed better than impoverished schools on the same test.

Economy and it’s effect on education appears to be a timely topic, what with President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address set to go live to the nation tonight 9pm EST. Many analysts suspect that jobs, innovation and education will be a hot topic during the hour-long speech. Obama has in the past spoken about America’s need to remain competitive internationally and we’ve discussed why the new space race has already begun in the classroom.

However, there are other interesting perspectives about what these test scores mean and why this nation can’t address the educational crisis without first addressing the nation’s impoverished. William J. Mathis is the managing director of the National Education Policy Center and a former Vermont superintendent who believes that the United States will remain low scorers when compared internationally if we don’t make changes to the economic system which causes various students from all over the country to have highly different educational experiences based on income. He says in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, Test Scores and the Economy:

Unfortunately, the United States has become the most inequitable of the developed nations — a very dubious number one ranking. The simple arithmetic shows that we will remain low-scorers as long as we perpetuate huge economic disparities and inequalities in the quality of schooling we provide. Number one ranked Finland has 3% poverty while the United States has over 25% poverty.

It is the scores of our most needy children that pull our national average down. One of the reasons that other nations are catching up and surpassing us is because they are building their middle class while the United States is pursuing policies that destroy theirs.

It’s certainly food for thought. Should we read these results a Massachusetts kids “smarter” or just located in an area of the country that is, by many standards, more privileged?

featured photo by melisdramatic

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