'Nation's Report Card' Shows Growing Gap In Student Achievement

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'Nation's Report Card' Shows Growing Gap In Student Achievement
The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress released Wednesday suggests a growing gap in U.S. student achievement.
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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports U.S. students aren't making the grade. The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released Wednesday suggests a pattern of declining scores in nearly all categories — and a growing gap between the nation's highest and lowest achievers.

The NCES is the research arm of the U.S. Education Department, and it administers the standardized exam to a sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students every two years. More than 290,000 students were assessed this year.

NCES Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr said the so-called "Nation's Report Card" indicated no real progress in reading or math over the past decade. Scores are reported on a 500-point scale established in the early 1990s, and students were making steady gains in math and reading until around 2009.

Carr said: "Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower-achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher-achieving students made score gains."

According to the report, 35% of fourth graders are proficient in reading, while 41% are proficient in math. Just over one-third of eighth graders are proficient in reading, and about one-third are proficient in math.

Carr said eighth grade is a "transitional point in preparing students for success in high school." She encouraged researchers to further investigate the decline, saying the report is "designed to tell you what, not why."

Newsy spoke with Sarah Sparks, an assistant editor at Education Week, to understand this year's report card and its possible outcomes. She said a separate report from the NAEP found high achievers tended to have access to a lot more "substantive activities" in the classroom. 

She said: "They were not being just asked to summarize and get the very basics down. They were looking to really analyze content and look for patterns in what was going on. And those differences at the classroom level can make a big difference later on in how those students achieve." 

The report, though, wasn't all bad. Sparks said there are individual districts bucking the trend and narrowing achievement gaps in reading and math.

She said: "Some districts are making a lot more progress than the nation as a whole in closing achievement gaps in helping students learn to read and do math. For example, our nation's large urban districts — which typically perform well below the nation as a whole — they've been growing faster and getting better faster than the nation as a whole this time around. In fact, Washington, D.C., has performed, has grown more and had stronger growth than any other state or large urban district this year. And they have touted the fact that they have strong early education programs now. They are working to continuously improve and do their own feedback for their kids. So I think there are places we can look to found out what's working across different districts."