'Nation's Report Card' Assessment: 26% of U.S. 12th Graders Proficient in Math, 38% in Reading

Results of the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), often called “The Nation’s Report Card,” indicate that high school seniors’ academic skills remain stagnant and lacking in proficiency and that a wide achievement gap still exists among student ethnic groups, despite millions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent over decades to reduce it.

The NAEP report shows that, when 2013 results are compared to 2009 scores, the average mathematics score for 12th graders remained at 153 on a 300-point scale, and, as in 2009, only 26 percent of students scored at or above the “proficient” level in math.

The national average of reading scores remained stagnant at 288 on a 500-point scale, with only 38 percent of high school seniors scoring at or above the proficiency level.

NAEP is the largest standardized test administered nationwide, and this year, student NAEP scores were compared to college course requirements for the first time.

According to the report, only 39 percent of 12th-grade students have the mathematics skills, and just 38 percent have the reading skills, needed for entry-level college courses.

When ethnicity is a factor, NAEP scores continue to suggest a wide achievement gap.

Students of Asian/Pacific Island background were found to be most academically prepared for college, yet still with only 47 percent testing in the “proficient” range in both mathematics and reading.

Results show that 47 percent of white students scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2013, while 33 percent scored at the same level in math.

For Hispanic high school seniors, 23 percent were found to be proficient in reading, while 12 percent scored at the same level in math.

Only 7 percent of African-American high school seniors were found to be at grade level in math, and just 16 percent measured at the “proficient” level in reading. The report noted that the “minority gap” between black and white students was actually greater in 2013 than in 1992.

Just 3 percent of 12th graders scored at the “advanced” level in mathematics, compared to 35 percent measured as “below basic.”

NAEP reading scores were only slightly better than those in math, with 5 percent of high school seniors in the “advanced” category and 25 percent at the “below basic” level.

According to Education Week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said about the findings, "We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as [a] nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students.”

The hot-button question about the NAEP results, however, may be whether the data provide insights into how high school students will perform on the PARCC and SBAC tests, which are the assessments that are the products of the two Common Core test consortia. These tests are due to begin next year.

Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, said last week that an initial review found that the NAEP test items are “quite closely aligned with the Common Core content.”

Ze’ev Wurman, a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, spoke with Breitbart News about the NAEP report and the implications for Common Core.

“Less than 40% of HS graduates are college-ready, a finding that is not new,” Wurman said about the NAEP results. “However, close to 70% of high school graduates continue to college of some sort – be it a 2-year or 4-year college. Yet only about half of them get a degree of any kind after 150% of nominal time: six years for a Bachelor's in a 4-year college and three years for an Associate in a 2-year college. That is just slightly below 40 percent.”

Wurman, who is the author of “Common Core’s Validation: A Weak Foundation for a Crooked House,” published by the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, continued:

Consequently, a wise reader should ask himself how can it be that Common Core pretends to require high school graduates to be college-ready? If Common Core were to demand a true college-readiness, over 60% of students would have to fail to graduate high school, a clear political impossibility. So, those who have truly examined the Common Core standards are correct when they assert that Common Core will necessarily offer a fake, dumbed-down college-readiness to students, and expect colleges to take them in anyway.

“If one carefully looks at the NAEP data, the fact that there is no overall change in scores hides an interesting point,” Wurman added.

Of the 12 pilot states in mathematics, Massachusetts is the highest achieving one, yet it is one of only two states whose scores have dropped since 2009. In fact, its drop is the sharper one of the two, and has been confined particularly to the higher achieving students – white students, and students with parents who graduated college. African-American and Hispanic students actually gained ground in Massachusetts. Of the 13 states that piloted NAEP in reading, also only two states dropped their scores since 2009, and yet again Massachusetts is one of the two.

“Could it be that the falling Massachusetts NAEP results are a harbinger of the harm that Common Core will likely cause to that state's previous stellar performance, which was based on its now-abandoned top shelf state standards?” Wurman asks.

Similarly, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor emerita at University of Arkansas and the developer of Massachusetts’s former standards that were replaced by the Common Core, told Breitbart News, “The NAEP scores at the high school level haven't changed much in 40 years. That is why we need stronger high school and middle school academic standards.”

“Only the kind of standards Massachusetts once had – standards for which we had some evidence for effectiveness on NAEP scores and on other tests – should have been adopted by our states,” Stotsky added.

She continued:

These standards stressed literary study in English language arts. They also provided a full set of Algebra I standards for completion in grade 8 if school districts chose to allow students to complete Algebra I in grade 8. They also offered a full set of precalculus standards after a full set of Algebra II standards. Alas, Common Core does none of the above.

“We need to replace Common Core's standards with the kind of standards Massachusetts had until 2010,” Stotsky concluded.       

Terrence Moore, Professor of history at Hillsdale College, told Breitbart News that yet more federal intervention, in the form of the nationalized Common Core standards, is not the answer to the problem with education in America.

"The fox says to the hen: 'It's true that six of your ten chicks have not returned to you after coming to my rigorous camp for college and career readiness and critical thinking in a twenty-first-century global economy. But give me the other four, and I promise I will make them into life-long learners,'" Moore said. “The moral: don't trust those who point to their own failure as justification for their continued 'service.'” 

“Though it has taken a while, the hen has learned not to trust the fox with her remaining chicks,” he added.


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