National Education Scorecard Shows Math and Reading Tests Falling, in Washington and Across the Country

The dueling headlines tell the story:

Both are right, of course. And we certainly understand the desire to accentuate the positive. It pays to look below the headlines. The Times explains that despite the dip, the long-term national trend remains positive. 

Still, the scores for both grades [4th and 8th] on both tests [math and reading] remain substantially higher than they were in the 1990s and officials caution that it’s too soon to know if the decline is a blip, or a reversal of the longer trend.

The test scores released Wednesday are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a measure of student achievement that is more or less consistent over time and throughout the country, unlike state achievement tests.

Washington state’s eighth-grade results for math and reading were a few points lower than in 2013 and about the same for fourth-grade. Washington also shows long-term progress for each grade and test, despite the latest dips.

National education leaders were surprised at the outcome, but caution against rushing to judgment.

“This isn’t a pattern that we saw coming,” Peggy G. Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP, said in a media call. “It was an unexpected downturn.”

…”We’re trying not to read too much into a decline,” she said. “We understand it’s a pattern that’s consistent across many of the states and distributions, but we like to see multiple years before we address it with that [high] level of concern.”

It’s hard to take a lot of comfort in this, from the Associated Press.

Only about a third of the nation’s eighth-graders were at proficient or above in math and reading. Among fourth graders, the results were slightly better in reading and in math, about two in five scored proficient or above.

The report also found a continuing achievement gap between white and black students.

As OSPI says, Washington is outperforming the nation.

How many states scored statistically higher than Washington?


  • Reading: 3 states
  • Math: 3 states and the Department of Defense Schools


  • Reading: 5 states and the Department of Defense Schools
  • Math: 5 states and the Department of Defense Schools

“I’m pleased with our state’s performance,” State Superintendent Randy Dorn said. “Although our 8th-grade scores are not as high as they were last time, our state’s overall trend has been continually upward since the beginning of NAEP testing. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made.”

Despite the nagging concern that we may simply be doing very well against weak competition, it is progress. And it strongly underscores the need for regular benchmarking, setting standards, evaluating performance and  emphasizing accountability.