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TWELFTH-GRADE NAEP MATH AND READING SCORES FINALLY RELEASED: 2005 Average Reading Score is a Disappointing Six Points Lower than 1992 Score

“High school commencement was right around the corner for the students who took these tests in 2005,” said Bob Wise

Initially expected in fall 2006, the twelfth-grade results from the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and math were finally released on February 22. The average reading score was 286 on a 500-point scale, one point lower than in 2002 when the test was last administered, and six points lower than 1992. The average math score was 150 on a 300-point scale; however, because of changes to the test’s framework, current scores could not be compared to those from previous years.

According to the results, 27 percent of all 2005 twelfth graders in public schools read “below basic,” meaning that they were unable to understand or to make interpretations about the provided text. This percentage was one point higher than in 2002, and seven points higher than in 1992, when only 20 percent of twelfth graders performed the below basic level. The results were even more disheartening for math, in which 39 percent of all twelfth graders performed below basic.

“High school commencement was right around the corner for the students who took these tests in 2005,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The fact that so many students who walked across the stage on graduation day lacked the most basic skills in reading or math should concern every citizen.”

The report also demonstrated the large achievement gaps that continue to exist between white students and their African-American and Hispanic classmates. For example, the report shows a twenty-six-point gap in reading between white students, who scored 293, and their African-American classmates, who scored 267. The average Hispanic reading score (272) was twenty-one points lower than the average white score, while the average American Indian/Alaska Native score (279) was fourteen points lower, and the average Asian/Pacific Islander score was 287, six points lower.

The percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient (grade level) fell from 40 percent in 1992 to 35 percent in 2005. In math, only 25 percent performed at or above the proficient level.

“With 65 percent of the nation’s high school seniors reading below grade level, and 77 percent performing below grade level in math, it is obvious that the United States is failing to teach its older students the basic skills they need to succeed in the competitive global economy of the twenty-first century,” Wise said. Mentioning that these students will need additional training to learn what they should have learned in high school, he said that “rather than spending billions each year on remediation, the nation should invest in improving the literacy and math skills of middle and high school students, while it continues to support these efforts in the early grades.”

The overall decline in twelfth grade reading and math scores since 1992 seems to contradict the findings of the High School Transcript Study, which was released by NAEP on the same day. It reports that the overall grade point average for high school students was a third of a letter grade higher in 2005 than in 1990.

The study also says that high school graduates in 2005 were more likely to have completed at least a standard curriculum—defined as four credits in English and three each in social studies, math, and science—than graduates in 1990. Only 40 percent of 1990 graduates completed at least a standard curriculum, compared to 68 percent of graduates in 2005. However, these numbers also mean that 32 percent—nearly one in three high school graduates—took less than a standard curriculum. At the same time, only 10 percent of 2005 graduates completed a rigorous curriculum, which is defined by NAEP as containing at least one precalculus-or-higher math credit; at least three science credits in biology, chemistry, and physics; and three or more foreign language credits. The percentage of students taking a rigorous curriculum has increased only one point since 1998.

“The two reports released today show that we have our work cut out for us in providing every child in this nation with a quality education,” saidU.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “If, in fact, our high school students are taking more challenging courses and earning higher grades, we should be seeing greater gains in test scores.” Spellings also said that President Bush, as part of his drive for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization, is pushing for more academically rigorous curricula in U.S. high schools. “Schools must prepare students to succeed in college and the twenty-first-century workforce,” she added.

David Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County (CA) school system, seconded Spellings’s comments and suggested that, in addition to an achievement gap between certain groups of students, there is also a “rigor gap.”

“There’s a disconnect between what we want and expect our twelfth graders to know and do, and what our schools are actually delivering through instruction in the classroom,” Gordon said. He stated that a course may sound challenging in title but, upon an analysis of the content, it might not be as rigorous as one would assume.

Administered every two years to students in grades four, eight, and twelve, NAEP is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of American students’ knowledge and skills. As such, the report of the results is also referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The 2005 NAEP twelfth-grade results and the High School Transcript Study are available at


Facing Uphill Battle to Enlist Soldiers, U.S. Army Turns to High School Dropouts


According to a recent article on the Harper’s Magazine website, the portion of non-high school graduates in the Army’s 2006 enlistment pool was 27.5 percent, an increase of 10 percent over 2005 when the Army fell nearly 7,000 recruits short of its 80,000 goal. That year, the Army decided to relax its standards in an effort to deepen the pool of available recruits. The 2006 enlistment figures are a far cry from those from the 1990s, when only about 5 percent of new Army recruits had failed to earn their high school diplomas.

“Recruits with a criminal history and non-high school grads are far more likely to perform poorly, commit acts of misconduct, and fail to complete their scheduled tours of duty,” the article reads. “Judging from past results, about half of the non-grads will not complete their first four years of active duty, versus an expected ‘attrition’ rate of about one third for high school graduates.”

The article notes that the Army plans to expand significantly over the next five years. Eli Flyer, a longtime Pentagon consultant on military recruiting, said that the Army is likely to continue to tap into the pool of non-high school graduates. “About 400,000 people a year get GEDs,” he said, “so you’re talking about a pool of millions. In contrast to high school graduates, who are aggressively courted, most GED-ers are walk-ins.”

The complete article is available at


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