National 12th-grade reading and math scores from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mostly held steady on average compared to performance in 2015, but results from students scoring in the lowest percentiles dipped noticeably.
A deeper examination of the results, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, shows a widening gap between the average reading performance of Black and White students from 1992 to 2019. The gap was 24 points in 1992 and 32 points in 2019, showing the scores of Black students are, on average, declining faster than those of White students.
More funding and access to high-quality curriculum and instruction should be priorities if school systems want to better prepare students for post secondary success, education stakeholders said.
The stagnation of the 12th-grade NAEP results should be a “wake-up” call to the nation that students may not be getting the general skills they need by the time they graduate high school, said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida, who participated in an Oct. 28 virtual panel marking the release of the results.
Carvalho also voiced concern about the pandemic’s impact on student achievement.
“I think the gap that we are experiencing is a result of a disruptive fourth quarter of last year, compounded by the summer regression, compounded by a level of disengaged students in the first quarter of this year,” he said. “You put all those elements together, and we should be bracing ourselves, quite frankly, for a historic academic regression the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also voiced disappointment in the results in a statement, saying, “This Report Card should light a fire under America’s education leaders to pivot and try something new to avert another lost generation. Legislators of both parties should stop making excuses and start working with their governors and the White House right now to pass meaningful reforms that empower students and parents to take control of their education and their future.”
Education-related organizations said schools need to look for solutions to boost student performance. Trena Wilkerson, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), said the organization is supporting schools and districts as they look at their policies and practices to provide students with access to high-quality math curriculum and instruction.
“We must also step back and see how our national policies are driving this generational stagnation in mathematics learning,” Wilkerson said in an emailed statement.
Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), said in a statement that schools need more federal stimulus funding to survive the pandemic and to implement transformative practices. “Public schools need support to reinvent and improve learning, recruit and support teachers, and close the homework gap by providing students access to high-speed broadband,” she said.
In Miami-Dade, Carvalho said the district uses a data-driven approach to understand where the learning gaps are so resources and funding can be directed to support students in need. The district also uses inclusive practices and provides a wide variety of courses, including opportunities for high-schoolers to earn college credits, Carvalho said.
Paul Gasparini, principal of Jamesville-DeWitt High School in DeWitt, New York, also spoke on the panel, saying his school offers small-group and one-to-one tutoring to increase student performance. “I think a combination of those practices with a focus on people… seem for us in particular to provide some level of success for our most at-risk students,” Gasparini said.
The 2019 12th grade NAEP results did have some encouraging data: More than half of high school seniors — 61% — had applied or been accepted to a four-year college, and more lower-performing 12th-graders reported they took more advanced math and reading courses compared to 12th-graders in 2015.
The 2019 NAEP was administered between January and March in 2019, and it had 25,400 students from 1,770 schools taking the math portion and 26,700 students from 1,780 schools taking the reading portion. The tests were administered in both pencil-and-paper and tablet formats, and there was no statistical difference in performance between the two, said Peggy Carr, associate commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, who spoke during the webinar.