A report released on June 27 measures the long-term academic performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students in reading and math, providing what the NAEP calls “the most extended retrospective picture of student achievement in the United States."
Of the 50,000 public and private school students who took the tests last year, both 9- and 13-year-olds scored higher in reading and mathematics than did students their age in the early 1970s.
But 17-year-olds did not show similar gains. The 2012 reading assessment indicates that 94 percent of 17-year-olds lack the highest level of reading proficiency; 61 percent could not understand or interpret complicated information; and 18 percent lacked the ability to "make generalizations" about what they read.
In mathematics, only 7 percent of 17-year-olds tested at the highest proficiency in 2012, which means that 93 percent lacked the ability to solve multistep problems and understand algebra. Another 40 percent were deficient in "moderately complex procedures and reasoning.”
Average reading and mathematics scores in 2012 for 17-year-olds were not significantly different from scores in the early 1970s, when per-pupil spending was far less than it is now.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, per-pupil spending in public elementary and secondary schools was estimated at $4,961 in 1969-1970 (in 2011-2012 dollars). By 2009-2010, the per-pupil spending had jumped to $12,017 (in 2011-2012 dollars).
NCES projects that per-pupil spending by public elementary and secondary schools dropped in the 2012-2013 school year to $11,467, but that is still more than double what it was in the early 1970s.
Comparing the 2012 test results with those in 2008, when NAEP administered its last round of assessments, only 13-year-olds made gains, and they did so in both reading and mathematics.
Catholic schools outpace public schools
As CNSNews.com previously has reported, Catholic school students consistently have scored higher in reading and math than public school students since the late 1970s/early 1980s, and that continued to be true last year.
According to NAEP’s most recent 2012 data, Catholic school students scored 11-23 points higher in reading, on average, than public school students across the three age groups.
And it's a similar story with math: In 2012, Catholic school students scored 7-20 points higher in mathematics, on average, than public school students across the three age groups.
Information about the type of school students attend (public or private) was first collected for NAEP’s long-term reading assessment in 1980 and for the long-term math assessment in 1978. In every assessment year since those dates, Catholic school students have had higher average scores than public school students in both reading and math.
More Hispanics, fewer whites
The NAEP notes that over the past four decades, the demographic makeup of American students has changed considerably, with Hispanics students accounting for a larger proportion and whites accounting for a lower proportion than in the 1970s.
At age 13, for example, the proportion of Hispanic students taking NAEP’s math assessment more than tripled between 1978 and 2012, from 6 percent to 21 percent, while the proportion of white students taking the assessment decreased from 80 percent to 56 percent. Black students accounted for 13 percent of those taking the math assessment in 1978, and 15 percent in 2012.
NAEP says similar demographic changes were noted for the 9- and 17-year-old age groups.
Another notable change is that students in all three age groups tend to be in lower grades now than they were in the past.
No significant progress among 17-year-olds
The NAEP’s long-term reading assessment measures students’ reading comprehension using passages that vary by type (expository, narrative, poems, advertisements, schedules) and length.
Locating specific information, identifying main ideas, and drawing inferences from a passage to provide an explanation are typical of the skills measured by assessment questions, most of which are presented in multiple choice format, the report said.
In 2012, students were graded at five levels: 150 (simple), 200 (partially developed skills), 250 (intermediate skills), 300 (more complicated), and 350 (most complicated).:
By age 17, only 6 percent of students tested last year scored at or above 350, the highest level, meaning they can “extend and restructure the ideas presented in specialized and complex texts,” such as scientific materials, literary essays, and historical documents. Conversely, 94 percent of 17-year-olds lacked the highest level of reading proficiency.
Only 39-percent of 17-year-old scored at or above 300, indicating that 61 percent could not understand or interpret complicated information.
And 82 percent tested above the above 250 intermediate reading level, indicating that 18 percent lacked the ability to interrelate ideas and make generalizations.
In mathematics, only 7 percent of 17-year-olds tested at the highest proficiency in 2012, which means 93 percent lacked the ability to solve multistep problems and understand algebra.
Sixty percent of 17-year-olds tested at or above the 300 level, which means that 40 percent were deficient in moderately complex procedures and reasoning. And 96 percent tested at or above the intermediate level (numerical operations and beginning problem solving).
The picture is a little brighter for 9- and 13-year-olds.
But still, at age 9, only 22 percent of students tested at the intermediate reading level of 250 or above, indicating that 78 percent lack the ability to search for specific information in a text, interrelate ideas, and make generalizations.
Seventy-four percent of 9-year-olds tested at or above level 200 in reading, which means they have “partially developed” reading ability and comprehension. But another 26 percent lack even that basic achievement.
By age 13, only 15 percent of students tested at or above level 300, meaning that 85 percent lack the ability to summarize and explain relatively complicated information.
Sixty-six percent scored at or above the intermediate 250 level, but 34 percent couldn’t read even that well.
Results from the 2012 NAEP mathematics assessment show improvement in the knowledge and skills demonstrated by 9- and 13-year-olds in comparison to students their age in 1973.
In math, the average 2012 score for 9-year-olds was 25 points higher in 2012 than in 1973. But only 47 percent of those 9-year-olds scored at the middle 250 level (beginning problem solving). Another 53 percent did not.
Thirteen-year-olds scored higher on the math assessment in 2012 than in all the previous assessment years, with a 19-point gain from 1973 and a 4-point gain from 2008.
Eighty-five percent of 13-year-olds performed at the level of 250 or higher in 2012. But only 34 percent scored at or above level 300, indicating that another 66 percent had not mastered moderately complex procedures and reasoning.
NAEP is a congressionally authorized project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.