Results released by the National Center for Education Statistics show there are both reasons to be excited and reasons to be disappointed over the achievement levels of American high school students. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 12th graders showed significant gains as far as reading and math but fell really short as far as overall academic achievement.
What is the NAEP?
Administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, the NAEP is an assessment of students’ academic achievement. The largest continuing assessment in the country, it periodically measures how students are doing in math, reading, writing, science, civics, the arts, geography, U.S. history and economics.
In order to preserve the integrity of results, students in all states receive the same test booklets each time they’re tested. Subject assessments remain pretty much the same each year. If there are changes to a test, each is meticulously documented.
What NAEP Measures
The results of each NAEP assessment appear in a publication known as The Nation’s Report Card. Testing outcomes are tabulated for students in grades for 4, 8, and 12 for the main assessments. Another set of results comes from samples of students aged 9, 13, or 17 and is used to analyze long-term trend assessments.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports results of assessments of mathematics, reading, science and writing achievement at both the national and state levels, typically for 4th, 8th and 12th graders. For national reporting, the assessments cover students in both public and private schools. However, scores of only those in public schools are reported at the state level.
The 2009 Results
According to the Washington Post, 12th graders in 2009 showed gains in reading and math achievement over NAEP results from 4 years earlier. On a 500-point scale, their reading scores went up 2 points. Their math scores rose 3 points using a 300-point scale.
Experts interpreted the outcome as a mixed bag. Even though there were modest gains in both academic areas, only 38 percent of seniors showed a satisfactory level of proficiency when it came to reading. For math, the figure dropped to 26 percent.
Around 52,000 students took the reading assessment. About 49,000 math tests were administered. Since the math assessment was revamped in 2005, analysts were not able to make detailed comparisons of the 2009 results to earlier data.
The Education Trust further points out that the National Assessment of Educational Progress only evaluates students who have made it to their senior year of high school. Of every 100 students in 9th grade, about 25 aren’t in school by 12th grade. Of those who don’t make it that far in school, the percentage who are considered low-income and minority students is unusually high.
The 2009 NAEP results are particularly sobering, The Education Trust suggests, considering that nearly 80 percent of the high school seniors who took the test indicated that they intend to go on to college. This puts pressure on school districts to develop stronger curricula and instructional supports to make sure that students are better prepared to meet the President’s goal of college and careeer readiness for all high school graduates.