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LONG-TERM TRENDS: Latest NAEP Results Show No Overall Progress in Reading and Math for the Nation’s Seventeen-Year-Olds Since 1970s, But Achievement Gap Narrows

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"I am pleased to see some significant progress over the decades to narrow the achievement gaps. There are considerable bright spots, including remarkable improvement among black and Hispanic students and great strides for girls in mathematics," said David Driscoll

Released on June 27, results from the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend assessments in reading and mathematics show significant gains for nine- and thirteen-year-olds since testing began in the early 1970s but no changes for the nation’s seventeen-year-olds. One positive long-term trend is a shrinking of achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

“I am pleased to see some significant progress over the decades to narrow the achievement gaps. There are considerable bright spots, including remarkable improvement among black and Hispanic students and great strides for girls in mathematics,” said David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the administration of NAEP assessments. “Assessing students at particular ages over the decades provides a unique perspective on learning and achievement and a way to take a step back to see overall achievement trends and just how far we’ve come.”

In some areas, however, the long-term progress is not as positive. Consider the performance of the nation’s seventeen-year-olds, who posted an average score of 285 in reading in 1971, as shown in the graph below. In 2012, their average score was 287, a two-point increase that the report said was “not significantly different” from the 1971 score. According to the report, individuals with a reading score at that level can search for specific information, interrelate ideas, and make generalizations, but they likely struggle to find, understand, summarize, and explain relatively complicated literary and informational passages.

long term trends

 

The improving pattern held in mathematics, with average scores of nine-year-olds increasing from 219 in 1973 to 244 in 2012 and those of thirteen-year-olds from 266 to 285. The average score of seventeen-year-olds, however, only increased by 2 points, from 304 to 306, a difference again deemed not significant.

Although the average score for all seventeen-year-olds did not improve, the average scores for black and Hispanic seventeen-year-olds improved significantly since 1971, narrowing the achievement gap between them and their white counterparts. In 1971, the white-black achievement gap was 53 points; in 2012, it had narrowed to 26. The white-Hispanic achievement gap narrowed from 41 points in 1975 to 21 points in 2012. Much of this progress, however, occurred between the 1970s and the late 1980s. Since 1990, little, if any, progress has been made. In fact, the white-black achievement gap actually increased from 20 points in 1988 to 26 points in 2012.

“Today’s results are the nation’s education electrocardiogram and show positive outcomes for the early grades and increased performance by students of color, but the nation’s high school students are in desperate need of serious attention,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Today’s economic trends show the rapidly growing need for college- and career-ready students; these results show that many of the nation’s seventeen-year-olds are career ready, but only if you’re talking about jobs from the 1970s.”

The complete report is available at http://1.usa.gov/1b07RD3.

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