Education Week reports that fewer than one out of four high school seniors were ready for college in 2013 according to a new report from the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The message comes only a week after new results from the 2013 administration of the NAEP Grade 12 Reading and Math assessments show that after many years of education reform around the country, depressingly low percentages of students meet the NAEP’s definition of subject proficiency and the trend has remained static, from 2009 to 2013 as well.
In math, the NAEP Data Explorer shows that the proficiency rate for public school 12th grade students across the nation stayed static between 2009 and 2013 at 25 percent. There was a small improvement from 2005, the first time a new series of the NAEP math assessment was used, when the proficiency rate was only 22 percent. In 2013 only seven percent of the nation’s black 12th graders were proficient in math according to the new NAEP report.
In reading, the results are available all the way back to 1992. The bad news is that in 1992 the percentage of national public school students the NAEP said read proficiently was 37 percent. In 2013 the percentage was not statistically significantly different at just 38 percent. Only 15 percent of black 12th graders were proficient in 2013.
Overall, the low proficiency rates and static performance concern many education watchers.
A couple of factors that may make the NAEP 12th grade results less valid and reliable should be mentioned:
• Grade 12 students are tested in the second semester of their senior year and face no consequences from the test. In addition, the results are not reported below national level (except for a few pilot states), so there is no way for seniors to support their school or state with hard effort, either. Thus, there are concerns that “Senioritis” might be a factor and that those taking the NAEP might not put out a good faith effort. This attitude issue is not as likely to be as severe in Grade 8 and Grade 4 NAEP testing. Also, it is unknown if “Senioritis” has become more of a problem on recent NAEP assessments.
• Many weak students drop out of high school before the NAEP is given to Grade 12 students. This would inflate scores and is a problem unique to the Grade 12 assessments.
• On the other hand, high school graduation rates have been increasing across the nation recently, and some argue this adds more weak students to recent NAEP test pools, which could explain the flat scores for high schoolers.
• Student demographics have shifted strongly across the nation in the past two decades. In the early 1990s whites comprised 57 percent of the public school students tested on NAEP reading at Grade 12. As of 2013 the white public school enrollment was down to 57 percent in the nation’s public 12th grade classes. Because achievement gaps continue, the change in demographics also tends to depress overall all student average NAEP scores on more recent assessments. This is a factor at all grades.
• Policies regarding NAEP testing of students with learning disabilities have changed, and these may introduce variations in scores over time. In the tested sample of 12th graders in 1998, only four percent were students with learning disabilities. In 2013 nine percent of all students tested were learning disabled students. Almost all those learning disabled students received testing accommodations that were not allowed in 1992. Four percent of the raw sample NAEP wanted to test was excluded in 1992 due to learning disabilities. In 2013 only two percent of the raw sample was excluded due to disabilities. Overall, these issues might have some impact on the NAEP results over time but there is no definitive research on this issue.
Despite these issues, the overwhelming facts are that Grade 12 NAEP performance is low and much needed progress is coming slowly, if at all.