Stanford 9 Score Drop

K-12 Testing

Why do test scores in reading drop precipitously between grade eight and grade nine on the Stanford 9 achievement test? In California, for example, ninth graders scored 10 percentile points below eighth graders (34 versus 44).


Tina Nguyen, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, noted this drop locally and then checked other states which use the same national, norm-referenced, multiple-choice exam. She found substantial drops in Arizona, Alabama, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. In all but West Virginia, scores dropped more than 10 percentile points.


One possible explanation would be that the test's maker, Harcourt Brace, selected too-strong a norming group. (Test results are reported in reference to a group of students selected to accurately represent the nation's students.) Harcourt denied this happened and noted that test scores did not similarly decline in math and language. In fact, they rose slightly (1 - 5 points) in all five states.


Another explanation could be that the 1997-98 ninth-grade cohort was particularly weak in reading. However, in Arizona the drop has occcurred in two consecutive years. The same eighth graders who took the test one year scored substantially lower the next.


Nguyen reported that this phenomenon also has occurred on other standardized tests. With no answer readily apparent, officials in the various states and Harcourt researchers will continue to investigate.