High School Seniors Not Making the Grade in Math and Reading

May 9, 2014

On Wednesday, the Department of Education released its National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP) results on the proficiency levels of high school seniors in math and reading. The results? Concerning, to say the least.

According to the report, only 38% of high school seniors are proficient in reading, while 26% are proficient in mathematics. Both of these numbers are unchanged since the last NAEP assessment in 2009. Furthermore, the achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts is dreadful.

  • In reading, 47% of white student scored proficient, while just 23% of Hispanic students and 16% of black students performed at the same level.
  • In math, 33% of white students were proficient, while just 12% of Hispanic students and 7% of black students scored at the same level.

The NAEP results come on the heels of the news that the national high school graduation rate is over 80% —the highest in our nation’s history! (Sarcasm.) Are we really graduating a student body where only slightly above one-quarter of students are proficient in math and one-third are proficient in reading? To quote tennis legend, John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”

The higher education community knows the crisis in K–12 all too well. Nearly 9 out of 10 community college leaders say that students arrive unprepared for college-level work. Nationally, more than 50% of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20% of those entering four-year universities are placed in remedial classes.

There were a couple of interesting facts about the NAEP findings:

  • Students who agreed that taking mathematics will help them in the future scored higher.
  • Students who more frequently discuss interpretations of what they read scored higher.

The great news is that the Common Core State Standards emphasize both of these—comprehension in reading and math skills aligned to real-world application. Sounds promising, right? Not so fast. 

Ironically, the Chicago Teachers Union (the same union which led a seven-day teachers’ strike a couple of years ago) passed a resolution yesterday opposing Common Core. The Union’s President, Karen Lewis said that it “contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

If a 7% proficiency rate in math by black students isn’t racial discrimination, I don’t know what is.

The bottom line is that the Common Core State Standards provide states with an excellent opportunity to close the achievement gap, minimize remediation rates in college, and increase proficiency rates for ALL students.