National Report Card: Most high school seniors not prepared for college reading and math

The latest update from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or “The Nation’s Report Card,” has discouraging news on the academic performance of high school seniors. The Associated Press reports,

It’s not a promising picture for the nation’s high school seniors — they are slipping in math, not making strides in reading and only about one-third are prepared for the academic challenges of entry-level college courses.

We’ll have more on this later. NAEP scores are considered in the Opportunity Washington Scorecard, though we examine 4th grade reading and 8th grade math scores. 

Education Week reporter Liana Heiten writes

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 for 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.

We’d like to know how Washington students performed. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to know.

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, [Peggy ] G.Carr [acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics] explained, due to funding constraints.

As we’ve written before, increasing the high school graduation rate in our state is important. But the metric must also be viewed in the context of whether graduates are prepared to succeed in the postsecondary training and education required in today’s economy. Today’s results suggest that, nationally, too many students lack those skills. The data we use in our Scorecard strongly suggest that Washington is closer to the national norm than we would like to believe.

In our foundation report, we discussed the importance of college readiness:

But the challenge doesn’t end with high school graduation. Of students who graduated from public high school in 2009-10 and enrolled in community and technical college in 2010-11, 57 percent enrolled in at least one pre-college (developmental or remedial) course — most often in math. These disappointing numbers must be foremost in policymakers’ minds as they consider important questions of education policy and funding.

As we say in our Achieve priority: 

Education expands opportunity. By 2020, 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary education or training. Preparing our students for these opportunities requires high-quality education at every level.

The new NAEP data can be seen as yet another call to action to assure our students have the opportunities they deserve.