AiYah! Asian Kids Scored 2nd Place on NAEP Science!!?

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Hey all you Tiger Moms and Dads. Your kids got smoked (ok they were behind by a statistically insignificant amount) by those coddled slacker white kids in grades 4 and 8 on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress Science Test. OK, we don’t have to completely take our kids to the woodshed and let them have it because they did do best as high school seniors. BUT THAT’S NO EXCUSE FOR FAILURE!

NAEP City 2009

Asian NAEP by City 2009

Ranked by Grade 8

2009 NAEP Science scores ranked by G8

          G4     G8     G12
White     163    162    159
ASian/PI  160    160    164
AmInd/AN  135    137    144
Hisp      131    132    134
Black     127    126    125

Asian females actually did better than any other gender group, followed by white males. I’m not sure other than they might be tricky verbal-based problems or questions involving chopstick computer science problems, flower arrangements or origami puzzles.
NAEP 2009 science scores ranked by ethnicity and gender grade 12

166   asian female
162   while male
161   asian male
156   white female
138   hisp male
130   hisp female
127   black male
123   black female

In the 4th grade, about half of disadvantaged minorities (black / hisp / am indian) were below basic, a level about even with the bottom 13th percent of whites. However although the white average was higher than Asians, the “tiger” kids at the VERY top were about double the number, two percent vs one percent for whites, and it’s this two-to-one ratio that people notice, and almost completely explains the ratio at places like Harvard when they get 13 percent Asians vs the 7 percent taking the NAEP nationally.

One big beef I have with scales like this where the top category is reserved for the top one percent or less is that it is essentially useless if you expect the top category to be something you could expect all students to achieve if they just did everything right. The top 1 percent of a school are typically the same kids from your high school that are headed to a top 10 university like Harvard, MIT or Princeton, and to say that a kid smart enough to get into Stanford isn’t “advanced” is crazy. I remember grading papers for one state where we were essentially forbidden to give out any 4’s, yet some papers had vocabulary so advanced that in a room full of underemployed Masters and PhDs nobody knew the meanings of some of the words. 

The other thing about tests is that when you make them harder, you INCREASE the academic gap for minorities. On many basic skills tests, blacks in places like Seattle or San Francisco score at the 40th percentile or above, not as good as the leaders, but hardly illiterate.

Intelligence IQ tests are some of the hardest tests ever devised, deliberately calibrated to test you on what you probably was NOT taught, and these as a rule have put minorities down by one standard deviation, or about the 15th percentile. The SAT and ACT are also calibrated to sift out the top 1 percent. A 2006 chart I just dug up puts the 50th percentile of blacks about even with the 13th percentile of whites. That means the gap on the NAEP is equivalent to a bad old IQ test from the 1960s that have been banned by law in some states like California, AND the evil SAT college test. I don’t get why the SAT and IQ tests are utterly evil and racist, but it’s completely ok to bludgeon minority kids with Uncle Sam’s assessment version of “Asian parent from hell”.

Now if what you want to do is simply measure which kids know what, and who was smartest regardless of whether it came from a standardized curriculum taught well or because they had two “market dominant minority” Yale law professor parents who waterboarded / approved of waterboarding them into mastering “little donkey” at age 4, then such a test might make sense.

But lets face it. Any person or test that is trying to pick out the top 1 percent is looking for kids who are in the near-genius category who are years ahead of grade level and demonstrate they peform miles ahead of what could be expected of any normal person with a real life. Until Child Protective Services figures out how to use the “tiger parent” clause to start stealing attractive, adoptable Asian kids, a LOT of these kids DON’T have a life, not if their parents had anything to say about it while getting on the  best seller list. When a Russian mother asked me why my kids could not score in the 99th percentile I explained that the purpose of the test is to keep everybody out except the top 1 percent. No amount of study is going to put everybody in the top 1 percent when it is graded on a curve. It’s like that test we had at MIT that was so hard that everybody was below average.

It makes absolutely no sense if “advanced” is to be a goal or standard to be expected of all kids, let alone to try to teach to such a monstrosity. It’s like when my 1st grader showed me his percentile ranking on the one mile run. ONE MILE !#$% RUN???? What’s up with Uncle Sam being a Tiger athletics parent?

Fourth Grade (p. 9)

             ad   prof basic below basic
white     1   47   87   13
black     #   11   47   53
hisp      #   14   53   47
as/pi     2   45   81   11
ai/an     #   17   57   43

What’s advanced? These read like the so-called 4th grade WASL state test samples that matched up with grade 7 or 10 or higher in an actual textbook or content standard, but people were so impressed with how “high” the standards were nobody checked to see if they were crazy or not. Fourth graders should be able to predict the shape of the moon. (Huh?) What kind of shopping bag is best for the environment? According to Glenn Beck or the Sierra Club?? In 8th grade, you should explain and critique two plans to prevent erosion, and predict the sun’s position in the sky (Maybe with an iphone astronomy app…) In G12, explain the cellular response to an external stimulus (an external WHAT??) recognize a nuclear fission reaction (easy, uranium is a fuel as opposed to  deuterium in a fusion reaction) and compare methods for determining the age of the earth  ( Answers in Genesis or godless Evolutionary Theory?)  If some of these questions stump this MIT masters degree Chinese parent, should they be flunking Tiger parents like me too? Isn’t it the same “no matter how smart you are it’s not smart enough” attitude so many Asian kids detest?

Students from the suburbs scored about 2 percent at advanced vs 1 elsewhere, and tied with rural for highest score of 154 in G8. Reduced lunch kids score about as well as the under-minorities, while whites and Asians scored near the non eligible affluent crowd. 49 percent of 8th graders had parents who graduated from college scoring 161, compared to the 7 percent whose parents did not finish high school with a score of 131. Massachusetts had the highest percentage of advanced, 4 percent which even exceeded national Asians. Asians were 7 percent of test takers in 2009 which is good check vs census estimates on the student population to compare with say, college admissions. The most striking difference is that 58 percent of Asian seniors had taken biology, chemistry AND physics compared to 35 percent of the whites, which might explain the 12th grade advantage since everybody takes the same classes in G4 and G8.

My sister remarked to me her biggest problem is with the Tiger “teachers” and “administrators” who take a no prisoners approach to “raising the bar”. Education should not be another arms race gone amok. Scores can be a tool in informing instruction and guidance counseling, but the real purpose of this beast is to feed the fire of more ridiculous misinformed education “policy”. I say the NAEP does provide some interesting information, but the real progressives out there need to be able to recognize how much harm and damage can be caused by crazy standards that lead to “scorched earth” policies just as Amy Chua realized only too late the cost of getting her girls to where she thought they should go.


About the Author

MIT electrical engineering computer science graduate has written conservative columns on politics, race / culture, science and education since the 70s in MIT The Tech and various publications in including New Republic and National Review.