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NATION’S REPORT CARD: Reading and Math Scores Drop on National Assessment of Educational Progress

Achievement gaps between white students and students of color remained large—over 30 percentage points in some instances—and average eighth-grade reading and math scores declined according to the latest results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Released on October 28, NAEP results indicate that average fourth-grade math scores also dropped while fourth-grade reading scores were unchanged.

Eighth Grade Graph

“One downturn does not a trend make, and that’s what we’re comfortable in saying about the data,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. “We’re trying not to read too much into a decline at this point.”

Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise also preached caution in interpreting the results. “Using a single test to determine the success or failure of education reform movements such as college- and career-ready standards is like checking only the windshield wipers during a vehicle inspection,” he said in a statement. “The true value in the Nation’s Report Card is its status as the only national measure that permits comparisons across states and within various subgroups of students. The NAEP results will help policymakers and educators continue to understand the needs of all students and improve instruction that results in meaningful learning.”

Based on the results, there is still a lot of work to do. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of eighth graders performed below the basic level in reading, indicating that they likely struggle to identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose and make simple inferences from texts. In math, 29 percent of eighth graders performed below the basic level, suggesting that they likely struggle to complete problems correctly with the help of structural prompts such as diagrams, charts, and graphs, and probably cannot use fundamental algebraic and informal geometric concepts in problem solving.

The percentage of eighth graders scoring at the proficient level, which indicates a solid grasp of the subject matter, declined from 36 percent to 34 percent in reading and from 35 percent to 33 percent in math.

Among individual groups of students, there was no significant change in racial/ethnic score gaps for eighth-grade students in reading. Asian students posted the highest average score (281 on the 500-point scale), followed by white students (274), Hispanic students (253), American Indian/Alaska Native students (252), and black students (248). The 26-point difference in the average reading score for white students compared to black students has not narrowed significantly since 2005.

In eighth-grade math, white, black, and Hispanic students posted lower scores while scores for Asian students were unchanged. Again, Asian students had the highest average score (307), followed by white students (292), Hispanic students (270). American Indian/Alaska Native students (267), and black students (260). The 32-point difference between white students and black students has not changed since 2007. In four states/jurisdictions (District of Columbia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin), the difference in the average math scores between white and black students was 40 points or more. West Virginia, with a 16-point difference, was the only state with a white-black average score difference below 20 points.

At the state level, the average eighth-grade reading scores increased in only one state (West Virginia) while no states posted significant score gains in eighth-grade math. For fourth grade, average reading scores were higher in thirteen states/jurisdictions while average math scores were higher in the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and U.S. Department of Defense schools.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Minnesota had the highest average eighth-grade math scores while the District of Columbia, Alabama, and Louisiana posted the lowest. In reading, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont had the highest eighth-grade reading scores while the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and New Mexico posted the lowest.

Among the twenty-one large urban school districts that participated in NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment, six improved their scores from 2013 for at least one grade and one subject. Math scores increased in four urban districts and decreased in ten urban districts in at least one grade. Reading scores increased in five urban districts and decreased in three urban districts in at least one grade.

The complete results are available at

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