TIME Education

High School Seniors Lagging in Math and Reading, Report Card Shows

New federal education data shows record high school graduation rates haven't translated into higher achievement in math and reading. The Nation's Report Card revealed that between 2009 and 2013, students made no significant progress in math or reading

High school seniors haven’t made progress in math and reading achievement levels in recent years, according to a new report, a sobering counter to recent data that showed U.S. graduation rates reaching the highest levels in decades in 2013.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, shows that 12th graders in public schools stagnated in reading and in math in 2013. Between 2009 and 2013, students made no significant progress in math or reading, according to the report—in fact, 12th graders in 2013 performed a bit worse in reading when compared to students taking the first assessment in 1992. About 26% of high school seniors perform at or above “proficient” levels in math, meaning they grasp challenging concepts. In reading, about 38% perform at or above proficient, two percentage points less than students in 1992.

“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,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.

Between 2005 and 2013, African-American students’ math scores jumped by five points and white students saw their scores go up by four points. Asian/Pacific Islander students and Hispanic students experienced the highest gains, with math scores increasing by 10 and seven points, respectively. Yet achievement gaps persist between racial groups and genders. Boys scored an average of three points higher than girls in math, and girls scored about 10 points higher in reading than boys. Whites scored 30 points higher than blacks in math and 21 points than Hispanic students. In reading, whites scored 30 points higher than blacks and 22 points higher than Hispanics.

“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,” Duncan said.

Students who reported discussing reading material every day or once or twice a week in class scored higher than those who reported discussing reading material only sporadically. In math, 50% of the highest performers had taken a calculus course and 58% of those who scored the lowest had only taken up to Algebra 2.

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