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12th-Graders Perform Poorly on National Tests

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"The decline is not huge, but it is statistically significant, and morally significant as well. After all, twelfth-grade scores are the scores that really matter. If our graduates know less about science than their predecessors four years ago, then our hopes for a strong 21st Century workforce are dimming just when we need them most."

Test results from a national science test show that many high school seniors are not meeting higher standards in education. In the Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000, the average scores of fourth- and eighth-graders were essentially unchanged from 1996, but average scores among 12th-graders showed a significant decrease of three points. Secretary of Education Rod Paige attended the report release and shared his concern about the low 12th-grade scores:

“The decline is not huge, but it is statistically significant, and morally significant as well. After all, twelfth-grade scores are the scores that really matter. If our graduates know less about science than their predecessors four years ago, then our hopes for a strong 21st Century workforce are dimming just when we need them most.”

Did You Know?

Since its inception in 1969, the mission of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been to collect, analyze, and produce valid and reliable information about the academic performance of students in the United States in various learning areas. Under legislation passed by Congress, NAEP must provide objective data about student performance at national and regional levels. Since 1986, this data has been used to publish the Nation’ s Report Card.

NAEP currently conducts assessments in reading and mathematics at least every two years, in science and writing at least every four years, and in history or geography and other subjects selected by its governing board at least every six years. A sample set of fourth, eighth, and 12th-graders are given NAEP tests. Scores are used as a gauge to measure education progress on both the state and national levels.

More about NAEP

The release of the Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000 test, taken together with the Nation’s Report Card: Math 2000 test, released in August, and the Nation’s Report Card: Reading 1998 test, tell us that high school seniors’ performance in these three key areas has not kept up with 4th and 8th graders’ performance.

The results from these national tests in science, math, and reading show a remarkable number of 12th-graders who test below the basic level. In the Science 2000 test, 47 percent of high school seniors scored below “basic.” In the Math 2000 test, 35 percent of 12th graders scored below “basic.” In the Reading 2000 test, 23 percent of high school seniors scored below “basic.” Not only are a large percentage of our high school seniors performing poorly on national tests, they are doing worse than they did four years ago. Most recent tests place more 12th-graders in the “Basic” or “Below Basic” performance levels than the same test just a few years earlier.

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For each grade, the levels are cumulative; that is, abilities achieved at the Proficient level presume mastery of abilities associated with the Basic level, and attainment of the Advanced level presumes mastery of both the Basic and Proficient levels. NAEP defined performance levels as such:

  • Basic: This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.
  • Proficient: This level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • Advanced: This level signifies superior performance.

The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000, Math 2000 and Reading 1998 tests

Alliance Report

The results from the reading, math, and science NAEP tests are consistent with the Alliance for Excellent Education report, “Investing in Excellence: Making Title I Work for All Children.” In our report, the Alliance argues that a lack of funding has forced school districts to make a Sophie’s choice between their elementary-age children and their adolescents–and repeatedly, they’ve chosen to put their limited funds toward early education. One can easily see this choice in test scores, which show a decline in performance among 12th-graders, while scores for fourth and eighth grade students improved.

Alliance report (out of print)

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