This week, scores released by the federal government showed that American high school students' National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, sometimes referred to as the ânation's report card,' worsen as they progress to higher grades in the public school system.
Writing for The Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits reports that in reading and math, high school seniors scores have stagnated since 2005. Last year seniors scored a 153 out of 500, just three points higher than 2005.
In reading, however, students scores have declined from a score of 292 in 1992 to 288 in 2013. The gap in reading scores was greater in 2013 than in 1992, according to Joie Tyrrell of Newsday.
"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 US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Just as troubling, achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed."
High school students' scores barely rose at all. Theories on why high school seniors suffering stagnation in their NAEP scores are many and varied, such as:
— Public high schools are not doing a good job.
— Twelfth graders are not motivated to do their best on the NAEPs.
— Seniors have too many other things going on in their lives which diminishes the priority of the test.
— American high schools are not as rigorous as they should be.
— The NAEPs are not as serious as other standardized tests. The test is a barometer of performance not a test which is used
to determine college readiness. The stakes are low.
— In 2013, the test had a 92,000 participation rate, including a higher proportion of minorities, special needs students, and
English as a second language (ESL) students.
— The testing included students who probably would have dropped out of high school in past years. This demographic could explain why 4th and 8th grades performed better than high school seniors.
As white students likely become a minority in the nation's public school population for the first time next school year, Duncan said schools "must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students."
In the lower grades, scores for 4th grade reading rose to 222 in 2013 from 215 in 1988. Scores for math testing in the 4th grade rose to 242 in 2013 from 213 in 1990. Eighth-grade scores increased to 285 in 2013 from 263 in 1990 . In both 4th and 8th grades more students performed at advanced, the highest level, than did students taking the 1990 or 2011 NAEP tests.
The NAEP disagrees with these theories and counters by explaining that seniors are required to see a motivational video before they take the test. John Easton, head of the Institute for Education Sciences, says they are confident of 12th graders' enthusiasm.
And, Peggy Carr, who oversees administration at the National Assessment of Educational Progress, points to a paper which will soon be published and will report that "the patterns of persistence and engagement are not all that different between fourth graders and 12th graders".