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National report card: 12th-graders' reading, math test scores flat

A student uses a TI-84 Plus calculator to

A student uses a TI-84 Plus calculator to help solve math problems on May 1, 2013. Credit: Heather Walsh

Reading and math test scores for 12th-grade students nationwide have remained mostly unchanged since 2009 and the reading gap between black and white students has widened in the past two decades, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as "The Nation's Report Card," was culled from the scores of 92,000 students between January and March of 2013.

NAEP officials said the lack of progress since 2009 by students underscores the need for educators to keep the focus on boosting educational capabilities.

"Achievement at this very critical point in a student's life must be improved to ensure success after high school," said David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP.

Thirty-eight percent of 12th-graders performed at or above "proficient" in reading, and 26 percent were at or above "proficient" in mathematics. Both percentages were unchanged from 2009. The tests measured three achievement levels: basic, proficient and advanced.

Math scores improved from 2005 -- the first year the NAEP assessments were given in the subject. Reading scores, were unchanged from 2009, but lower than 1992, when the first NAEP reading tests were given.

In reading and math, white and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher on average in 2013 than black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native students.

The gap in reading scores between white and black students was wider in 2013 than in 1992, according to the report.

Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said the country must do more to combat "educational stagnation . . . Despite the highest high school graduation rate in our history, and despite growth in student achievement over time in elementary school and middle school, student achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years," Duncan said in a statement. "Just as troubling, achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed."

Nationwide, there were no significant changes from 2009 to 2013 based on students' race/ethnicity, gender or highest level of their parents' education. The only change from 2009 to 2013 was seen among English language learners, whose math scores decreased.

Alex J. Bowers, an associate professor of education leadership at Columbia University's Teachers College, noted that the NAEP study looked only at results at one grade level. NAEP scores in other areas have shown improvements, he said.

The graduation rate nationally has increased and the dropout rate has fallen, Bowers said, adding that "the types of test scores represented on NAEP are just one of many. . . . Academic knowledge as measured by NAEP is an important component, but not necessarily the only component."

Last week, New York Education Department officials reported that the number of students statewide who received the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, which requires tougher course work, rose to 37.4 percent in 2013 compared with 29.9 percent in 2012.

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