Results released today from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation's Report Card, show that U.S. high school seniors in 2015 made no gains in reading and fell a point in math when compared with 2013 results.
Over the longer term, the latest 2015 results in math are no better than when the math test was first given 10 years ago in 2005.
And the 2015 average reading score is 5 points lower than the average score on the initial exam in 1992 -- 23 years ago.
The National Assessment of Education Progress is given periodically in a number of subjects to a representative sample of the nation's public and private school students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades.
The only nationwide measure of student achievement, the testing program is a project of the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education. The National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, nonpartisan board of governors, state legislators, school officials and others, oversees and sets policy for the program.
Leaders of the national testing program said this week that the nation's rising graduation rate could be one factor in the flat or declining achievement levels. Recent test-takers likely included students who at an earlier time might not have remained in high school long enough to take the math and reading tests.
"The Governing Board is pleased that the graduation rates are increasing," said Bill Bushaw, executive director of the 26-member National Assessment Governing Board. "But at the same time we are not pleased that we are not making the academic gains that we need to so that there is greater preparedness for post-secondary, for work, for military participation.
"These numbers aren't going the way we want," Bushaw added, "and we just have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students to close opportunity gaps that high school students are having to deal with. We must not only increase graduation rates but increase the skills and knowledge [students have] when they graduate from high school."
Results from the national math and reading assessment for Arkansas' 12th-graders or for students in any other specific state are not available.
The tests were given to a representative sample of the nation's high school seniors -- 13,200 students from 740 schools in math and 18,200 students, also from 740 schools, in reading. The 2015 results for high school seniors are not being reported on a state-by-basis, although that has occurred in past years.
The cost of the state-by-state reporting and the fact that such reporting is not legally required for 12th grade results -- in contrast to the requirement for fourth and eighth grade results -- resulted in the decision against reporting the results by state.
Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said the 2015 test-takers were reflective of all students in the country.
"That does not mean there were students from every state included in the sample," Carr added. "Some states look remarkably very similar to the ones right next to them. It doesn't happen often that a state is not included but it is possible."
In addition to concerns about the anemic overall scores, test program leaders pointed to widening disparities among the test-takers.
"In the case of reading, the one thing I would say we should focus on is that the students at the top of the distribution are going up, and the students at the bottom of the distribution [of test-takers] are going down," Carr said. "There is a widening of the gap between higher and lower-ability students. That is something we should think about."
Carr said similar patterns have been identified in other data.
"In math, the decline is real," she added. "Again, we need to look at what it means when the top of the distribution does not decline, which is what we see here, and the bottom of the distribution does. It means students at the lower end are getting worse."
In 2015, students earned an average score of 152 on a scale of 1 to 300 in math, down from 153 in 2013, but not statistically different than the 150 average score in 2005.
The percentage of students scoring below the basic achievement level in math increased from 35 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2015. The percentage of students scoring below the basic level in reading also increased by three points since 2013.
Twenty-five percent of the math test-takers in 2015 scored at or above "proficient," meaning that the students demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter. That compared with 26 percent scoring at proficient or advanced levels in 2013.
In reading, 38 percent of test-takers scored at proficient or advanced in 2013. That percentage was 37 percent in 2015.
The average score in reading in 2015 was 287 on a 1-to-500 point scale, compared with 292 in 1992.
Carr and Bushaw said there were no statistical gains this year for the 12th-graders when their scores are divided by race and ethnicity.
Forty-seven percent of Asian students scored at proficient or better in math in 2015, as did 32 percent of white students, 12 percent of Hispanic students and 7 percent of black students, and 31 percent of students who were of two or more races.
Forty-six percent of white students, 49 percent of Asian-American students, and 45 percent of students of two or more races scored at proficient or better levels on the 2015 reading exam. Seventeen percent of black test-takers and 25 percent of Hispanic test-takers scored at proficient or better in reading.
Students whose parents graduated from college had the highest success rate on the tests.
Questions asked of the 12th-graders to determine connections between their experiences and the test performance showed that students who read more on a daily basis scored higher than those who read less. In math, students who took higher level courses and took a math course in the 12th grade had higher average scores.
The 2015 National Assessment for Education Progress results for Arkansas' fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math were released in October. The average achievement levels for Arkansas fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading lagged behind those of the nation at both of those grades.
The Nation's Report Card on 12th-grade achievement is available for viewing beginning today at the following website: nationsreportcard.gov.
Metro on 04/27/2016