Since 2002, federal law has conditioned Title I funding on states’ participation in the biannual administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading in grades four and eight. This is a boon to us policy wonks because we can study the progress (or lack thereof) of individual states and use sophisticated research methodologies to relate score changes to differences in education policies or practices. That’s the approach that allowed Tom Dee and Brian Jacob, for example, to inform us that NCLB-style accountability likely boosted math achievement in the 2000s.
Over the years, NAEP has also made stars out of leading states and their governors or education leaders, and has galvanized reformers to try to learn from their successes. It started with North Carolina and Texas, which saw stratospheric increases in the 1990s, especially in math, and across all racial groups. Then it was Jeb Bush’s moment in the sun, as Florida’s scores climbed quickly from the late-1990s through the 2000s, with particular progress for black and Hispanic youngsters. Delaware, Minnesota, and even New York have also produced some big improvements at various times. And let us not forget the Massachusetts Miracle.