Though technology has advanced rapidly over the past four decades, high school seniors in the United States are not much better in reading and mathematics than they were in the early 1970s. According to education officials, the disconcerting revelations on the National Assessment of Educational Progress study are a result of more mediocre to poor students choosing to stay in school instead of dropping out.
Fortunately, the study had more encouraging findings regarding younger students, African-Americans and Hispanics, who made the most notable improvements in reading and math in a span of about 40 years. According to Shawnee (Okla.) Middle School principal Brent Houston, the findings on what is commonly known as “the nation’s report card” are quite promising for elementary school students.
“Today’s children ages 9 and 13 are scoring better overall than students at those ages in the early ‘70s,” observed Houston. He did, however, echo concerns regarding how 17-year-old students have simply not improved that much in four decades. “Since the early 1970s, the average scores of 17-year-olds in both reading and mathematics have remained stagnant,” added the educator.
The NAEP “report card” stated that 9- and 13-year old students are better in reading and math compared to 1971 and 1973 respectively, when performance in those areas was first recorded. As for 17-year-old students, officials believe that the drop in below-average students dropping out has contributed to the lack of progress.
National Center for Education Statistics associate commissioner Peggy Carr provided one such example, as Hispanic students had a dropout rate of 32 percent in 1990, as opposed to only 15 percent in 2010. She said that Hispanics are “generally scoring at the lower end of the distribution”, but was nonetheless pleased that more of them are choosing to stay in school rather than dropping out.
Still, educators feel today’s students aren’t learning as much as they should, even as the government spends more on education than it did in previous years. According to former West Virginia governor and Alliance for Excellent Education president Bob Wise, the NAEP study may have been positive for students in the early grades and students from minority groups, but American students in general are “in desperate need of serious attention” in terms of their educational needs. “These results show that most of the nation’s 17-year-olds are career ready, but only if you’re talking about jobs from the 1970s,” remarked Wise.
Regardless of age, the gap between Caucasian students and black and Hispanic students has continued narrowing in the present decade, as seen on the NAEP. For 17-year-old students, the gap was reduced by half, while in the area of math, 9-year-old African-Americans and Hispanics are performing today at the same level where they were in the early 1970s.
Also observed on the study was how classroom composition had changed over the past four decades, as more blacks and Hispanics make up classrooms as compared to the late ‘70s. “These results very clearly put to rest any notion our schools are getting worse,” noted Education Trust president Kati Haycock. “In fact, our schools are getting better for every group of student that they serve.”