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NATION’S REPORT CARD: No Improvements in U.S. High School Seniors’ Reading and Math Performance Since 2009; One in Four Students Score “Below Basic” in Reading

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"Today’s results reveal that large percentages of the nation’s twelfth graders lack the skills necessary to thrive in the ‘real world’ even though they are on the verge of entering it," said Gov. Wise.

Released May 7, findings from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—show that average reading and math scores for American high school seniors are unchanged since the last assessment in 2009. Even worse, three-quarters of twelfth graders performed below the proficient level in math and 62 percent performed below that level in reading. The test results come on the heels of new data showing that the national high school graduation rate reached 80 percent for the first time in the nation’s history.

“Despite the highest high school graduation rate in our history, and despite growth in student achievement over time in elementary school and middle school, student achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Just as troubling, achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed. We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall—making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools. We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as a nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African American and Latino students.”

In reading, the average score (288 out of 500) was the same as in 2009, but 2 points higher than in 2005. However, it was also 4 points below the average score from the first year of the test in 1992, as shown in the graph below. (Click on the image for a larger version).

NAEP12thGrade

Only 38 percent of students performed at or above the proficient level while one in four students fell below the basic level. Among students of color, 36 percent of Hispanic students and 44 percent of black students scored below the basic level, compared to 17 percent of white students and 20 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students.

In math, the average score (153 out of 300) was the same as the last assessment in 2009, but 3 points higher than in 2005 when the first test was given. Only 26 percent of twelfth graders scored at proficient in math while 25 percent scored below basic. Among students of color, 50 percent of Hispanic students and 62 percent of black students scored below the basic level, compared to 19 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 25 percent of white students.

The combination of the highest high school graduation rate in the nation’s history and gains in average scores at the elementary and middle school levels with stagnant math and reading scores among twelfth graders left education experts offering several reasons for the apparent disconnect.

Some pointed to the ever-increasing diversity in the student testing pool. In 2005, for example, students of color only made up 25 percent of students tested; in 2013, that number grew to 40 percent, as shown in the table below. (Click on the image for a larger version).

NAEP12thGrade2

“Our twelfth-grade population is our population. And we don’t explain away test scores based on demographics. But it’s useful to keep in mind that we are seeing increases in subgroups that have traditionally performed lower,” John Easton, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics and director of the Institute of Education Sciences, told The Hechinger Report.

Others noted that the higher high school graduation rate meant that lower-performing students who might have dropped out in the past were expanding the pool of test takers. “The good news is that national high school graduation rate is on the upswing and is greater than 80 percent for the first time. Higher graduation rates mean there are more runners on the track—the challenge is getting them up to speed,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “However, today’s results reveal that large percentages of the nation’s twelfth graders lack the skills necessary to thrive in the ‘real world’ even though they are on the verge of entering it.”

Wise said the results spoke to the “desperate need for the aggressive implementation of the Common Core State Standards,” which have been adopted in more than forty states. “Higher academic standards must be met with quality education to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and a career.”

Complete results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress twelfth-grade reading and mathematics assessments are available at http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/.

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