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Daily Dish: Release of the Nation’s Report Card Shows Decline in Math and Reading Performance

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October 28, 2015 02:55 pm


Results released today from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card, showed a decline in mathematics performance of fourth grade and eighth grade students across the United States. As the New York Times reports, this dip in scores is the first since 1990, and comes as the country’s employers demand workers with ever-stronger mathematics skills to compete in a global economy. Reading scores did not see any positive change either, with eighth grade scores dropping and fourth grade performance remaining the same.

As the Washington Post reports, researchers caution that it is difficult to identify the cause of any fluctuation in scores, and that deeper analysis is needed to understand the potential causes of this year’s drop. In addition, they say it is too soon to tell whether the results are the beginning of a trend, or just a dip this year.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan echoed this logic in the Huffington Post, saying:  “Educators throughout this country have been doing the heavy lifting of some of the biggest changes our schools have seen in decades, retooling their classroom practice to come up to speed with new and higher standards that the large majority of states have adopted…I’ve said on a number of occasions that we should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that ‘implementation dip’ is part of what we’re seeing here.”

In a statement responding to the release of the scores, Alliance President Bob Wise mentioned some of these changes and improvements to schools in recent decades, including that: “all states have adopted college- and career-ready standards and many states have moved to more sophisticated tests that assess students’ critical-thinking, problem-solving, and other skills necessary for success in today’s highly competitive job market.” However, he continued, “these upgrades need time to take hold. Additionally, the nation’s education mechanics—its teachers, leaders, and other educators—need the support, materials, and guidance to make these upgrades work for all students.”

News sources highlight various findings from the tests, including:

  • The 2015 scores show that 64 percent of fourth-graders and 66 percent of eighth-graders are not considered proficient in reading. In math, 60 percent of fourth-graders and 67 percent of eighth-graders are not considered proficient. The Washington Post
  • Achievement gaps between white and minority students did not change significantly in 2015 nationwide.  Huffington Post
  • The scores show that 46 percent of white students are considered proficient, compared to 21 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of African American students. New York Times
  • No state or any of the 21 urban school districts that participated in the tests raised scores in both subjects and grade levels. New York Times
  • In only a few places — including Mississippi and Department of Defense schools — did student scores increase. Huffington Post
  • Among results for big-city school districts, several showed progress on NAEP, including the District of Columbia, Dallas, Miami-Dade County, Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston. Council of Great City Schools

The exam is considered the country’s most consistent measure of K-12 progress and captures the performance of wealthy and low-income children of all ethnicities in urban, suburban and rural communities, according to the Washington Post, and therefore many people look to the report card for insight into the effects of demographic and policy changes. As individuals and groups move to use the scores as evidence supporting or opposing existing policies, Secretary Duncan cautioned against this practice, saying: “There are lots of theories out there I’m already hearing, from resources to demographics…I would caution everyone to be careful about drawing conclusions with so many variables,” Duncan said in the Huffington Post. “People need time to dig into this thoughtfully. Anyone who claims to have this all figured out is pedaling a personal agenda, rather than an educational one.”

The NAEP exams are given every two years and assess a representative sample of fourth grade and eighth grade students in public and private schools across the United States. The full results can be viewed here: Learn more about how students scored and how they are progressing using the interactive report card dashboard.


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