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Post "A Nation at Risk": Landmark 1983 Report on US Education
Created by John Eipper on 04/07/21 2:49 AM

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"A Nation at Risk": Landmark 1983 Report on US Education (Francisco Ramirez, USA, 04/07/21 2:49 am)

John E asked for an overview on the 1983 report, "A Nation At Risk." Anya Kamenetz published a good summary in this April 29, 2018 piece in nprEd. If you search for "A Nation At Risk" on the internet, the article will pop up.

This is the official title:

US National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1984. "A Nation At Risk." Cambridge, Mass: USA Research.

I am taking the liberty of copying and pasting a few paragraphs from this overview:

"A Nation at Risk" cited statistics such as: "The average achievement of high school students on most standardized tests is now lower than 26 years ago when Sputnik was launched," and "[The SAT demonstrates] a virtually unbroken decline from 1963 to 1980. Average verbal scores fell over 50 points and average mathematics scores dropped nearly 40 points."

Those numbers weren't made up. But they weren't the only ones out there.

The report de-emphasized the fact that more students than ever were graduating from high school and attending college, and that top US students led the world in academic achievement.

The Department of Energy--yes, Energy--commissioned a follow-up analysis of test score trends in 1990. It was known as the Sandia Report, after the federally funded Sandia National Laboratories which produced it.

Its authors were engineers trying to generate economic forecasts, not education authorities with an ax to grind. And they didn't diagnose the same disaster that "A Nation At Risk" did.

"To our surprise, on nearly every measure, we found steady or slightly improving trends," one of the authors, Robert Huelskamp, later wrote.

How could this be? Because of a statistical effect known as Simpson's Paradox.

In the early 1960s, college-going was still rare. It was mostly top students, largely well-off white males, who took standardized tests like the SAT and applied to college.

By the 1980s, college was more available to more people, and more important to getting a good job. Many more people were taking the SATs and applying to colleges. This included more people of color, more low-income students and other historically disadvantaged groups.

So, when you lumped everyone's scores together, as "A Nation At Risk" did, you saw declining average scores from the 1960s to the 1980s.

But, when you broke out test takers by subgroup, as the Sandia Report did, looking at men, women, whites, Hispanics, African-Americans and low-income students separately, you found that most of these groups of students were improving slightly on test-taking over that time.

"The idea that American schools were worse just wasn't true," says James Guthrie, an education professor at Lynn University in Florida. Guthrie published a scholarly article in 2004 titled "A Nation At Risk Revisited: Did 'Wrong' Reasoning Result in 'Right' Results? At What Cost?"

OK, but surely, there has been a decline in the last ten years or so. If you search for SAT Score Trends in the 21st century in the Internet you will not find evidence to support overall decline.

So, am I happy as a clam with schools and universities in America? No.

JE comments:  Here's the Kamenetz article.  It exposes the age-old problem of statistics:  they can lead you to any conclusion you want to find.


So...I am relieved!  But surely, at least, our education is suffering during the pandemic?

I had to investigate Simpson's Paradox.  Wikipedia provides a head-scratcher of an example, on baseball batting averages.  David Justice had a higher season average than Derek Jeter in both 1995 and 1996.  However, if you combine the averages for the two years, Jeter's was higher.  Huh?  Click below:

Simpson's paradox - Wikipedia

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