Between 2013 and 2015, fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics scores dropped in the United States according to NAEP results, also called "The Nation's Report Card."
Over the two-year period, the average fourth-grade reading score did not change, but the average eighth-grade reading score declined. Reading and mathematics national scores are higher than the scores on the first assessments in the early 1990s.
According to a press release, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report is the largest national assessment of what the country's students know and can do in various areas of study. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administers the NAEP, which is recognized as the "gold standard" of student assessments.
"Since the early 1990s, we have seen progress, especially in mathematics," said NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr. "In 2015, however, we saw declines in mathematics in both grades and in reading at grade 8. The findings were different for fourth-grade reading, which held steady from 2013. We also see some bright spots in the scores of individual states and urban districts."
Until the results of the 2017 testing are available, Carr says caution should be in order before they can label the score declines a "downward trend."
The Nation's Report Card also shares information about different demographic groups such as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native. Achievement gaps between white students and other groups did not change significantly since 2013 in subject areas or grade levels.
NAEP student performance is reported by three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Proficient is used to represent competency over challenging subject matter.
The decline in math was unexpected, explained Carr, as it was not a pattern that the NCES saw coming. Lauren Camera of US News and World Report writes that the 2015 US News/Raytheon STEM Index found that raw scores showed wide gaps. Asian students were in front of the line, followed by white students. Black and Hispanic students had lower scores compared to white and Asian students.
William Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, said the variety of education policies nationwide could be why there is a decline in scores. Over 40 states have adopted more rigorous standards along with new state assessments. A majority of states have added more charter schools and are working on turning around struggling schools as well.
Another point to consider is that states that have not adopted Common Core possibly had students who were not prepared to answer questions based on the new standards. Outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested that because public schools are becoming more diverse, students' performance may have been affected, and that the assessment itself may not align perfectly with Common Core changes.
Duncan, who was the leader in the implementation of Common Core, says this is not the time to panic. The education overhaul will take years to settle in and reap positive results.
Some suggested that there were so many standardized tests that students may have become overwhelmed by the amount of time needed to prepare for and take the multiple instruments, writes Jen Kirby of New York Magazine.
President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said the declining NAEP scores show that the country's focus on using standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools is not working, according to The Washington Post's Emma Brown.
"Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence that our kids have suffered, these latest NAEP scores again show that the strategy of testing and sanctioning, coupled with austerity, does not work," Weingarten said in a statement.
Matthew Chingos, a researcher at the Urban Institute, notes that comparing states' overall scores to one another is not useful since the states have such different student populations. Chingos stated:
"If you want to compare across states, if you want to say how kids in Massachusetts versus Mississippi are doing, you really do need to make these adjustments."