Rik W. Hafer

The National Center for Education Statistics recently released the latest assessment scores for all 50 states. Missouri ranks in the lower half.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a biennial assessment of fourth-grade and eighth-grade students across the country in English and math proficiency. The good news from the 2015 scores is that Missouri did about as well (or poorly) as in 2013. But that is where the good news ends.

I will focus on the math scores, because there is ample evidence that how students do on the math component of the test is a good indicator of future economic success. That is, states with low math scores also tend to be states that have poor records when it comes to economic growth. And Missouri is not an economic powerhouse by any stretch of the statistical imagination.

So how did Missouri students do in math this time around? Thirty-eight percent of fourth-graders scored at the proficient level. If my own math is correct here, that means 62 percent scored at levels less than proficient. That put Missouri at 29th compared to other states. Eighth-graders did slightly worse: only 31 percent scored at or above the proficient level. That score put Missouri at 32nd. (For perspective, more than 50 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students in Massachusetts scored above at or above the proficient level in math.) And as the recent post by James Shuls) points out, adjusting for state demographics does not improve the outcome.

Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) notes that these current rankings are no worse (eighth-grade math) and an improvement (fourth-grade math) compared with the 2013 results. They fail, however, to report that both scores are lower than their peaks, which occurred in 2009. Though the scores appear to have stopped falling, they also have not regained the ground lost over the past six years.

With NAEP scores falling or, at best stable, how long will state education administrators and politicians continue with the ineffective Top 10 by 20 campaign? The only way Missouri will become a top-10–ranked state in terms of educational achievement is if most of the states currently ahead of it somehow begin to fail miserably.

I just do not see that happening. Do you?

About the Author

Rik Hafer
Research Fellow

Rik Hafer is a Show-Me Institute research fellow and a professor of economics and the Director of the Center for Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri.