Nation's Report Card on High School Students Shows Flat Performance

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Math and reading test scores among 12th graders nationwide remained flat from 2009 to 2013 with performance gaps between racial and gender groups also not significantly different, according to data released Wednesday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The NAEP exams, commonly referred to as the nation's report card, are considered one of the best tests to measure educational progress nationwide.

Twelfth grade reading scores haven't improved since 1994. Math scores improved slightly since 2005. That was the first year of a new math exam, which makes comparisons to tests before 2005 unreliable. 

“Stagnation is unacceptable. Today’s 12th graders are performing no differently in mathematics and reading in 2013 than they did in 2009,” David Driscoll said. Driscoll is the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “Achievement at this very critical point in a student’s life must be improved to ensure success after high school.”

Math Scores
  % Proficient Average Scale Score
Year 2009 Test 2013 Test 2009 Test 2013 Test
Nation 25% 25% 152 152
Connecticut 29% 32% 156 160
New Jersey 31% 33% 156 159


Reading Scores
  % Proficient Average Scale Score
Year 2009 Test 2013 Test 2009 Test 2013 Test
Nation 37% 36% 287 287
Connecticut 43% 50% 292 299
New Jersey 39% 41% 288 292

Proficient scores denote students who are successful at completing challenging materials.

Despite the nationwide trend, some states saw improvement. Connecticut was one of two states to have statistically significant improvement in both math and reading; Arkansas was the other. Connecticut's gains were largely driven by male students whose average scores in math improved by five points and nine points in reading. 

Students in Connecticut and New Jersey scored above the national average in both subjects. The two states were among 13 that participated in the voluntary pilot program to compare performance among states. State-level data isn’t available for New York, which did not participate in the pilot program.

New York students who took the exam contributed to the national findings, but not enough New York students took the exam to be able to evaluate state-wide performance.

The gap between male and female students did not change significantly from 2009. Male students performed better than female students on the math. Female students outperformed males on reading. 

Overall, the average score gap between black students and white students on the reading exams didn't change since 2009 and is wider than it was in 1992. The gap among those groups is unchanged on the math exam since 2009, but slightly smaller than in 2005.

“Despite the highest high school graduation rate in our history, and despite growth in student achievement over time in elementary school and middle school, student achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a news release. “Just as troubling, achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed. We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall — making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools.”

The NAEP exams were administered to a representative sample of 92,000 twelfth-graders nationwide in early 2013.