It is a familiar lament among both colleges and employers that U.S. high school graduates are neither ready to move on to higher education nor ready to pursue a career. A national survey indicates the students themselves feel unprepared for college or career upon leaving high school. KPI likes to state that Kansas students do about average in a country that doesn’t perform very well.
Unfortunately, the just released results of the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) for high school seniors support those claims that, indeed, too many students graduating from high school are ill-prepared for either college or entering a career.
When scores are reported from the biennial NAEP, the focus is generally on the results of fourth and eighth graders in math and reading. However, NAEP also tests 12th graders in both subjects. The 2015 outcomes are troubling because not only are they low in both reading and math, but also they are not improving. Nationally, only 37% of students are prepared for college in math and reading (a percentage close to ACT results) – down from 2013. (Please note: NAEP does not report 12th grade results by state.)
Here are more highlights – perhaps lowlights is a better term – from the 2015 12th grade NAEP:
Trending results are not improving:
- In both reading and math, the overall scores are lower than the 2013 assessment.
- In math, the scores are unchanged in terms of statistical significance from 2005, when the current framework was adopted.
- In reading, scores are lower in terms of statistical significance than in 1992, the first year of the assessment.
Proficiency numbers are down:
- Only 25% scored proficient or higher in math, down from 26% in 2013.
- Only 37% scored proficient or higher in reading, down from 38% in 2013.
“Below Basic” numbers are up:
- The number of students performing below the basic level in math increased from 35% in 2013 to 38% in 2015.
- The number of students performing below the basic level in reading increased from 25% in 2013 to 28% in 2015.
- In math, the average scores of those in the bottom 10 percentile dropped 4 scale-score points in math from 2013.
- In reading, the average scores of those in the bottom 10 percentile reached an all-time low, 6 scale-score points lower than 2013.
Achievement gaps are considerable and persist:
- Based on income: In math, only 11% of low-income students tested at proficient or higher, compared to 32% for the non-low-income students. In reading, the respective proficiencies are 23% and 45%.
- Based on race: In math, 32% of white students, 7% of African Americans and 12% of Hispanics scored proficient or higher. In reading the respective proficiencies are 47%, 16%, and 25%.
- Based on highest vs. lowest achievers: The gap between students scoring in the top 10 percentile and those in the bottom 10 percentile increased from 2013 to 2015. In reading in 2013, the highest performers scored an average scale score 96 points higher than the lowest performers. In 2015, that increased to 104 points. In math, the gap increased from 86 to 89 points.
NAEP Governing Board member Mitchell Chester, in response to these results, appropriately summed it up: “Too many 12th-graders are unprepared for the world after high school.”
The Kansas education establishment likes to tout Kansas achievement scores relative to the rest of the nation. The next time you get the chance, remind them about these absolute numbers they are comparing to. The latest NAEP scores provide further evidence that, in fact, the U.S. doesn’t perform very well academically.