Student Achievement Improves in Long-Term NAEP Study

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The overall academic performance of high school students in math and reading has remained basically flat over the last 35 years, but younger students have made some gains in both subjects, according to the latest long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, released this week. Further, the achievement gaps between some ethnic groups have narrowed in that period.

The report, "The Nation's Report Card: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress," studied the academic progress of students in reading and math at three age levels: 9, 13, and 17. It compared results from the most recent assessments (2007-2008) with results from certain years dating back to 1971.

Math and Reading Results by Age Group
What it found was that, in reading, 9- and 13-year-olds in 2008 outperformed students in those age groups in the two years with which they were compared--2004 and 1971. In 2008, the average score of 9-year-olds was 220, compared with an average of 216 in 2004 and an average of 208 in 1971--a 12-point gain since 1971. In 2008, the average score of 13-year-olds in reading was four points higher than in 1971.

In mathematics, the average score for 9-year-olds in 2008 increased 24 points from 1973, while the average for 13-year-olds increased 15 points.

But the results for 17-year-olds were statistically flat compared with 2004 and 1973. (Since NAEP is based on a sample, albeit a large one, there is a margin of error in the results. The average math score for 17-year-olds in 2008 was 306, compared with 305 in 2004 and 304 in 1973. The average reading score for 17-year-olds in 2008 was 286, compared with the revised average of 283 in 2004 and 285 in 1971.)

"The results at ages 9 and 13 are encouraging, but the lack of improvement by high school students provides little comfort," said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, in a statement released this week. NA GB oversees NAEP. "Clearly, we need to do more to ensure that students are continuing to learn throughout elementary, middle, and high school and are prepared for higher education and the workforce."

Results by Ethnic Group
Interestingly, the report did find statistically significant increases for 17-year-old students in both math and reading for the three major ethnic groups studied: white, black, and hispanic. That is, despite an overall flat result, each individual group in the study showed improvement.

How is this possible?

According to Stuart Kerachsky, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, "You may be wondering--if we have increases for White, Black, and Hispanic students, how can the overall results for 17-year-olds show no change? If we look at demographics, the percentage of White students in the total 17-year-old student population has fallen since the early assessments, while the percentage of Hispanic students has risen. Since White students, on average, have higher scores than Hispanic students, the overall average has not changed significantly, even though scores have increased for all three student groups."

So there have been improvements in the three groups and even a narrowing of the achievement gap since 1973, with black and hispanic students making gains on white students.

Math by Ethnic Group
In mathematics, white students at age 9 increased from an average score of 225 in 1973 to 245 in 2004 and to 250 in 2008--a gain of 25 points in 35 years. White students at age 13 increased from an average score of 274 in 1973 to 287 in 2004 and to 290 in 2008. White students at age 17 increased marginally from an average score of 310 in 1973 to 311 in 2004 and to 314 in 2008.

Hispanic students at age 9 increased math scores 32 points in the same time period, from 202 in 1973 to 229 in 2004 to 234 in 2008. Hispanic students at age 13 increased from an average score of 239 in 1973 to 265 in 2004 and to 268 in 2008. And hispanic students at age 17 increased marginally from an average score of 277 in 1973 to 289 in 2004 and to 293 in 2008.

And black students at age 9 increased 34 total points in math--from 190 in 1973 to 221 in 2004 to 224 in 2008. Black students at age 13 increased from an average score of 228 in 1973 to 257 in 2004 and to 262 in 2008. And black students at age 17 increased marginally from an average score of 270 in 1973 to 284 in 2004 and to 287 in 2008.

Math Scores by Ethic Group and Age Group
  1971 2004 (Revised) 2008
White, age 9 225 245 250
Hispanic, age 9 202 229 234
Black, age 9 190 221 224
White, age 13 274 287 290
Hispanic, age 13 239 265 268
Black, age 13 228 257 262
White, age 17 310 311 314
Hispanic, age 17 277 289 293
Black, age 17 270 284 287

 

Reading by Ethnic Group
In reading, meanwhile, 9-year-old white students improved from 214 in 1971 to 224 in 2004 to 228 in 2008. Thirteen-year-old white students improved their reading scores from 261 in 1971 to 266 in 2004 to 268 in 2008. And 17-year-old white students dropped marginally from 291 in 1971 to 289 in 2004, then improved slightly to 295 in 2008.

Nine-year-old hispanic students saw more significant gains. In 1975 (the first year for which data are available), 9-year-olds scored an average of 183, which improved to 199 in 2004 and to 207 in 2008. The results were not as dramatic for 13-year-olds, which improved from 232 in 1975 to 241 in 2004 and to 242 in 2008. The story was similar with 17-year-olds. hey improved from 252 in 1975 to 264 in 2004 and to 269 in 2008.

For black students, improvements were far more dramatic in reading at each grade level. At age 9, student improved from 170 in 1971 to 197 in 2004 and to 204 in 2008. At age 13, they went from 222 in 1971 to 239 in 2004 and to 247 in 2008. And at age 17, those averages went from 239 in 1971 to 262 in 2004 and to 266 in 2008.

Reading Scores by Ethic Group and Age Group
  1971 (or 1975) 2004 (Revised) 2008
White, age 9 214

224

228
Hispanic, age 9 183 (1975) 199 207
Black, age 9 170 197 204
White, age 13 261

266

268
Hispanic, age 13 232 (1975) 242 242
Black, age 13 222 239 247
White, age 17 291 289 295
Hispanic, age 17 252 (1975) 264 269
Black, age 17 239 264 266

 

The NAEP test results were based on a sampling of about 52,000 students (from public and private schools) in 2008. The results are available publicly here. A PowerPoint presentation on the findings from the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics from the United States Department of Education can be downloaded here (3.2 MB). An executive summary of the report can be found here. Additional information can be found here.

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