US High Schoolers’ Academic Progress On 40-year Stall

Recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown that student achievement among American high schoolers has remained stagnant for the past 40 years. Although steps have been taken to close income, gender and racial achievement gaps, on average, 9-12th graders have the same reading and mathematics skills as their peers from four decades ago.

The news is somewhat better for younger students. Allie Bidwell of US News & World Report explains that black and Hispanic students have earned better scores on reading and mathematics exams on all levels than they did in 1970s. The exams are given every four years and the results are used by NAEP to assess long-term educational trends in the country.

But since 2008, only one achievement gap – the White-Hispanic reading gap for 13-year-olds – has narrowed, according to the report.

"If we have a crisis in American education, it is this: That we aren't yet moving fast enough to educate the ‘minorities' who will soon comprise a ‘new majority' of our children nearly as well as we educate the old majority," said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, an organization that promotes closing achievement gaps.

"At best, students of color are just now performing at the level of white students a generation ago," she added in a released statement.

In light of the fact that most age groups are performing better, the seeming lack of advancement among 17-year-olds is puzzling. Since the 1970s when the tests were first administered hardly any progress in reading or mathematics has been made by this age group at all.

Brent Houston of the National Assessment Governing Board said that because parental education levels have risen over the past 40 years, the academic outcomes for older children should have improved.

This emphasis on education, he said, should translate into better performance for their children. But still, the average scores of 17-year-olds have stayed flat.

"If parents are achieving more, you'd think that older students in particular would be achieving at higher levels," he said in the statement.

But the report also revealed that children who more frequently read for fun are scoring higher in reading than those students who do so less frequently. In 2012, 53 percent of the 9-year-olds tested said they read for fun almost every day, and 23 percent said they do so once or twice a week. Those two groups scored more than 10 points higher than 9-year-olds who said they read for fun only a few times a year.

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