Large percentages of American high school seniors struggle with basic reading and math skills, according to the latest results from a national test widely considered to be the “gold standard” for measuring student achievement.
Released on April 27, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, show that 38 percent of U.S. twelfth graders scored below the basic level in math while 28 percent did so in reading.
In both subjects, the percentage of students scoring below basic was higher in 2015 compared to 2013, indicating that increased percentages of high school seniors lack even partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work.
Only one in four American twelfth graders scored at or above the math “proficient” level—defined as demonstrating mastery over challenging subject matter while 37 percent met that benchmark in reading.
When broken down by subgroups of students, all types of students fared poorly, but there are disturbingly large achievement gaps between white students and students of color. In math, only 12 percent of Hispanic high school seniors and 7 percent of African American high school seniors—compared to 32 percent of white high school seniors—scored at or above proficient. In reading, 46 percent of white high school seniors reached the proficient level, compared to only 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively, of Hispanic and African American twelfth graders.
“Today’s NAEP results show that education is still not a balanced equation for all students,” said Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “And for traditionally underserved students, the numbers are only getting worse.”
Overall, the national average math score for twelfth graders (152 on a 300-point scale) was 1 point lower in 2015 than 2013. In reading, the average score (287 out of 500) was not significantly different from 2013, but it was lower than the average score when the test was first given in 1992 (292).
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education John King preached patience and pointed to reforms, including higher standards, that are already underway but need time to take effect.
“Over the past seven years, schools have undergone some of the most significant changes in decades—work that is being led by educators who are retooling their classroom practices to adapt to new and higher standards,” King said. “We know the results of those changes will not be seen overnight, so we need to be patient—but not passive—in continuing to pursue the goal of preparing all students for success after high school.”
King also noted opportunities where states can take action based on the test results. “Twelfth graders who took math classes their senior year did significantly better on NAEP than those who did not, which indicates how important it is that schools continue to expand opportunities—particularly for historically underserved students—to take advanced course work,” he said.
The poor performance by U.S. high school seniors on NAEP follows news that the national high school graduation rate for the class of 2014 rose to an all-time high of 82.3 percent. Additionally, results released last summer from ACT and College Board indicated that many high school graduates are unprepared for college. On the ACT, only 28 percent of 2015 ACT-tested high school graduates met college-readiness benchmarks in each of the four subjects (English, reading, math, and science). Results from the College Board were not much better, with 41.9 percent of SAT takers in the Class of 2015 meeting the SAT college- and career-readiness benchmark.
“If there is any good news, it is that the national high school graduation rate has improved, but more diplomas without adequate math and reading preparation is not a formula for success for students or the nation,” said Wise.
Complete NAEP results are available at http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2015/.