Department Of Education Brings Home A Disappointing Report Card

The Department of Education has released its latest math and reading scores for 12th graders. The scores offer little good news for educators, with results low and largely unchanged since 2009.

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Flat, stagnant, static, those are words that the U.S. Department of Education has used to describe the latest reading and math scores for the nation's 12th graders.

As NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, most high school seniors appear to be graduating without the skills they need to succeed in college or work.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: If this was your teenager's report card, you'd probably be on the phone with your kid's school right now, demanding to know why your child's reading and math scores have remained so low for so long. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card, 12th graders' reading scores have not budged since 1992. Math scores have been flat since 2009. But the bad news doesn't end there.

JOHN EASTON, ACTING COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS: There are more students below basic and fewer students scoring proficient or advanced.

SANCHEZ: John Easton, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, briefed reporters on the results. In 2013, from January through March, more than 92,000 12th graders in private and public schools took either the math or reading test. In math, a whopping 74 percent scored below grade level. In reading only 4-out-of-10 high school seniors could read at or above grade level.

DARIA HALL: That tells us there are a whole lot of young people wildly unprepared.

SANCHEZ: Daria Hall is with the education trust, a group that advocates for equal educational opportunity. She says, after decades-long reforms, the dismal performance of 12th graders is a huge let-down.

HALL: Reading rates in particular are very low and that is so concerning, when you think about the fact that these are young people on the cusp of going out into the world, whether its college or the work force.

SANCHEZ: In other findings, non-English speaking students did worse in math in 2013 than they did in 2009. And though Asian students outperformed every other racial and ethnic group in math, the percentage of Asians scoring at or above grade level has dropped five points since 2009.

The black-white achievement gap that has persisted for decades, has not improved either. Black 12th graders today are 30 points behind their white counterparts in math. In reading, the black/white gap has widened since 1992.

David Driscoll, a former commissioner of education in Massachusetts and current chair of the board that oversees NAEP tests, says the poor preparation of high school seniors overall is unacceptable and we as a nation are at fault.

DAVID DRISCOLL: We just don't have a sense of urgency in this country about a lot of things and education is one of them.

SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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