The nation’s fourth- and eighth-grade students posted the highest average math scores ever on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, which was released on November 1. Results in reading were mixed; average scores were up slightly for eighth graders, but they remained unchanged for fourth graders.
As shown in the chart to the right, fourth graders’ average reading scores have held steady since 2007 while average scores in eighth grade increased by only 2 points since 2007.
In addition to providing an overall average score, the Nation’s Report Card breaks down data by achievement levels and race and ethnicity. Among the nationally representative sample of 168,200 eighth graders who took the test, only 34 percent scored at or above the Proficient level in reading. On the other end of the spectrum, 24 percent scored below the Basic achievement level, meaning that they could not recognize the main purpose of an informative article.
“Having nearly one-quarter of all eighth-grade students reading below the most basic level is unacceptable in today’s knowledge-based economy,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Without basic reading skills, these students will struggle to make their way toward a high school diploma. More often than not, they will fall behind as they encounter more challenging subject matter in high school and will eventually drop out.”
According to the report card, average reading scores for white, black, and Hispanic eighth-grade students were higher in 2011 than in any of the previous assessment years. However, it also finds that large achievement gaps continue to exist between average reading scores for white students (a score of 274 out of 500) and the average scores of black (249), Hispanic (252), and American Indian/Alaska Native students (252). Asian/Pacific Islanders posted the highest average reading score among eighth graders (275).
The report card also provides profiles of students scoring at the lower end of the scale (below the 25th percentile) and those scoring at the higher end (above the 75th percentile) to demonstrate how the two groups differed demographically. As shown in the table below, students scoring at the lower end of the scale tend to be disproportionately students of color and low-income students.
In math, the average scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students have improved significantly since the first Nation’s Report Card in 1990, but progress has slowed in recent years.
As shown in the graph to the right, fourth graders’ average math scores have increased by only 1 point since 2007. Among eighth graders, the average math score has increased 3 points since 2007.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the NAEP results are “reason for concern as much as optimism.” He praised the continual, albeit modest, increases but said that faster progress was necessary.
“While student achievement is up since 2009 in both grades in mathematics and in eighth-grade reading, it’s clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation’s children to compete in the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century,” Duncan said. “After significant NAEP gains in the 1990s, particularly in mathematics, the 2011 results continue a pattern of modest progress. … Enhancing education for all is the key to our nation’s economic prosperity. It is time for America to renew the promise of providing all children a world-class education.”
The Nation’s Report Cards in reading and math are available at http://nationsreportcard.gov/.