Federal

Low Performers Show Big Declines on 12th Grade NAEP Test

By Liana Loewus — April 27, 2016 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Much like their 4th and 8th grade peers, high school seniors have lost ground in math over the last two years, according to the most recent scores on a national achievement test.

In reading, 12th grade scores remained flat, continuing a trend since 2009.

Perhaps the most striking detail in the test data, though, is that the lowest achievers showed large score drops in both math and reading. Between 2013 and 2015, students at or below the 10th percentile in reading went down an average of 6 points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the largest drop in a two-year period since 1994. The high achievers, on the other hand—those at or above the 90th percentile—did significantly better in reading, gaining two points, on average, while staying stagnant in math.

“In the case of reading ... students at the top of the distribution are going up and students at the bottom of the distribution are going down,” said Peggy G. Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP, during an April 26 media call. “I think that’s something we need to think about. ... This is a pattern we’re seeing in other data.”

As for the mathematics average score, “I think the decline is real,” she added.

A nationally representative group of 13,200 12th graders took the NAEP math test in 2015, and 18,700 took the reading test. NAEP, which is administered periodically to different grades and in different subjects by the National Center for Education Statistics, is considered a barometer of U.S. students’ achievement. This year’s 12th grade results do not include state-level data, Carr explained, due to funding constraints.

In math, the average score was 152 on a 300-point scale, which was nearly two points lower than the 2013 average and constituted a statistically significant decrease. In reading, the average score was 287 on a 500-point scale—statistically similar to the average score two years ago.

Looking longitudinally, math scores are statistically similar to those in 2005, the first year that’s valid for comparison. Reading scores have declined since 1992, when the test was first administered.

When the scores are disaggregated by low, middle, and high performers, it’s clear that the low-performers—those at the 10th and 25th percentile—are scoring much lower than they did two years ago. That may be in part due rising graduation rates, said Carr. (The national on-time graduation rate hit an all-time high of 82 percent in 2014.) “The dropout rate for all students has improved,” she said. “That means we have students who normally would not be there who are there.”

(Chart below: 12th graders’ math and reading scores by low, middle, and high-performing students.)

Results for NAEP, known as the Nation’s Report Card, are also reported at three achievement levels: basic, proficient, and advanced. “Proficient” indicates students are successful with challenging, grade-level content.

Twenty-five percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. That includes the 3 percent of students who scored at the advanced level. In reading, 37 percent of seniors scored at or above the proficient level, with 6 percent scoring at the advanced level.

The percentage of students scoring below the “basic” level was significantly higher in both reading and math than it was two years ago. It went from 35 to 38 percent in math, and 25 to 28 percent in reading.

Starting in 2013, NAEP also began reporting on the percentage of students who are considered academically prepared for college, meaning they should be able to do first-year college work without needing remedial courses. To reach that threshold, students had to score at least a 163 in math and a 302 in reading.

In both reading and math, just 37 percent of high school seniors scored at the college-ready level.

“The governing board is pleased that graduation rates are increasing across the country, but at the same time we are not making the progress we need to for post-secondary, work, and military participation,” said William J. Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “We have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students and to close opportunity gaps.”

No Change in Racial Achievement Gaps

The data also show that large racial and ethnic achievement gaps have persisted. White and Asian students continue to significantly outperform their black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers.

While 47 percent of Asian students and 32 percent of white students scored at or above proficient in math, just 7 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students did the same.

There were no changes in the black-white and white-Hispanic score gaps for math or reading between 2013 and 2015. In fact, none of the racial and ethnic subgroups performed significantly differently than they had in 2013.

Girls continue to outperform boys in reading, and boys continue to outperform girls in math.

In a bright spot, the average math scores for English-language learners went up by 6 points over two years. Carr explained that this was primarily due to an increase in the number of Asian students identified as English-learners. “We weren’t surprised once we got a good sense of those demographics,” she said.

Mirroring Other Grades’ Scores

The 2015 NAEP results for 4th and 8th grade students, released in October, showed math scores had declined for those grades as well. Reading scores were steady for 4th graders but declined for 8th graders since 2013.

On seeing those scores, advocates placed blame in a variety of places—the Common Core State Standards, frequent testing, the economy, and demographic changes were among the targets.

Those contentions are likely to resurface with the 12th grade scores. However, it’s important to note that NAEP scores cannot point to causation, and that education researchers say such explanations should be viewed with skepticism.

When asked whether high school seniors take the test seriously, Carr said motivation isn’t much of a concern. The number of answers students omitted and other data, she said, showed that “students are not interacting with this assessment any differently than they have in the past.”

Students can choose to opt out of the test, though, and this year participation rates did drop a bit, she said. “But it was nothing that concerned us [or made] us think that the students we have in the sample today are any different from what we had in the sample in previous years.”


Related stories:


For more news and information on reading, math, and STEM instruction:

And sign up here to get alerts in your email inbox when stories are published on Curriculum Matters.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Feds to Probe Whether Texas Ban on School Mask Mandates Violates Disability Rights Laws
The Education Department has already opened investigations in six other states that ban universal school mask requirements.
2 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A staff member holds the door open at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas in 2020. This year, Texas has prohibited school districts from requiring all students to wear masks.
Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP
Federal New Federal Team to Work on Puerto Rico School Improvement, Oversight
The Puerto Rico Education Sustainability Team will focus on creating better learning environments and improving financial management.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Teresa Canino Rivera/GDA via AP
Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP