Busy parents of school-aged children may have missed it, but education policy wonks recently spent days – some spent weeks – pouring over 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth and eighth grade mathematics and reading scores. NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card, tests a sample of students across the country, allowing for a comparison of student performance across states.

The wonks concluded that our educational system serves many students poorly. Reading scores dropped since 2017 for eighth graders in 31 states and fourth graders in 17 states. Despite an almost obsessive policy focus on closing achievement gaps in recent years, the scores of lower-performing students dropped in three of the four of areas tested. The education policy world offered numerous explanations for the drop, ranging from teacher strikes, lazy state implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the recession’s impact on education funding, and ubiquitous screens in the classroom and at home.

Parents can and should look up their state’s 2019 results and historical trends. If you have an extra moment (if only!), compare the results with other states and national results. There is a good chance that your state and district won’t communicate this grim information with parents, unless you’re from Mississippi, which surprised edu-world with NAEP gains this year.

In Virginia, where my children and I live, the state’s average NAEP scores hover slightly above national average scores, but reading scores declined since 2017 and unfortunate performance gaps persist. I doubt the state or school districts will actively share this information with parents. For parents of elementary school students in trend-chasing districts such as Arlington County, Virginia, the reluctance to share student performance goes beyond near silence around NAEP. Arlington Public Schools surprised K-5 parents with a new “standards-based reporting” system for the 2019-20 school year that boasts about its “conspicuous absence of letter grades.” Teachers will provide progress reports identifying students’ current level of skill mastery without using grades; different skills will be measured in each quarter.

Confusion abounds as this new grade-free approach unrolls. Perhaps Arlington parents will realize that the new system does not clearly measure or communicate student performance and will demand actual report cards. Perhaps Virginia will find NAEP scores dropping in the future and will chase a new education trend as a result. Parents in Arlington and beyond should keep a close eye on district attempts to muddy student achievement measurements and keep parents in the dark. We need to know how our children are performing and hold our schools accountable.