Calls to create a national test have long been fought back by advocates of local school control, but the release of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress results that showed no gains nationally in fourth-grade math scores—as well as shocking gaps between students' scores on that test vs. state test scores in places like New York—will likely reignite the debate again. While eighth-grade math scores rose by 2 points on the 500-point NAEP scale, it was the first time since the test was launched in 1990 that no uptick was recorded for fourth graders. Scores on the highly regarded NAEP test, commonly known as "The Nation's Report Card," are based on a national sampling, and not every student in the country takes it. But it has consistently given a more accurate picture of what (if any) progress American students are making over the years than the highly political state tests, which vary wildly in rigor from state to state, and have come under increasing attack for doing little to speed up the rate of reform.
While there are technical reasons why the NAEP test might not be the right one to give every American student, a similarly challenging set of tests could certainly be developed. If nothing else, these results will increase the pressure the Obama administration is already applying to states to beef up the quality of state assessments and set the bar higher for proficient performance.