High school seniors nationwide have made little progress in mathematics and reading, performing worse in mathematics and about the same in reading on a national standardized test.
According to the 2015 Nation’s Report Card, high school seniors scored two points lower in mathematics than they did in 2013. Scores in reading remained unchanged in 2015 compared with 2013.
Overall, scores were not significantly different in mathematics and were five points lower in reading since the first comparable assessment year -- 2005 for mathematics and 1992 for reading.
Those results were consistent with a pattern of declining or stagnant test scores in mathematics and reading since the first administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which is highly regarded as one of the most accurate measures of determining how students will perform beyond high school.
Around 19,000 students took the NAEP reading test and 13,000 took the mathematics test and the national results included both public and private schools as part of the data. The results are widely regarded to be symbolic of the nation as a whole.
When it came to specific performance on the test, male students tended to score higher than female students in mathematics, while the opposite was true for reading.
The study had some jarring results in 2015: not even half of the students who took the test were prepared for college-level coursework -- only 37 percent of 12th-graders are prepared for college-level work in each subject, a two point decline from the 2013 math scores and a one-point decline from reading scores.
The study also found students at the top of the score distribution’s scores were increasing, while the students at the bottom’s scores were decreasing, meaning the achievement gap between high-performing and low-performing students continues to grow.
Asian and white students tended to score the highest in proficiency in both mathematics and reading, while black students scored at the bottom of the pack in both subjects.
The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, began using the test in 2013 to estimate how many high school seniors are actually ready for college-level coursework in reading and mathematics.
Last year’s test results indicate the nation’s 12th graders may not be ready for the world beyond high school.
"The 12th-grade NAEP results confirm the need to move swiftly to ensure that all students have access to high-quality programs that prepare them for success in higher education and the workforce," said Governing Board member Mitchell Chester, who is also commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "Too many 12th-graders are unprepared for the world after high school."
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, NAEP staffers said they couldn’t speculate why scores were going down and whether the decreases were a result of new education policies like the Common Core State Standards.
“We can’t speculate on why,” said NAEP Governing Board director Bill Bushaw. “We have a history of not going into a cause-and-effect relationship.”
Overall, board members said the results were worth looking into in order to see how schools can better prepare students for life beyond high school.
"A strong foundation in math and reading is essential to a student being prepared for college academics and for most careers, so this trend of stagnating scores is worrisome,"Governing Board Chair Terry Mazany said. "We must examine how we're preparing students for life after high school, whether offering more students advanced math coursework, for example, or placing greater emphasis on reading for pleasure and for school. This is a crucial time in education, and there are many things each of us can do to help ensure every student succeeds."
U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Jr. said the results show educators opportunities where they can make a difference in the classroom.
“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," said King. "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."
See the full study here.