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High School Seniors' Math, Reading Scores Flat on National Exam

Reading scores on a national assessment of high school seniors have remained virtually the same for 20 years. 


Racial and ethnic achievement gaps show no signs of closing, a new report states.

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The results of a quadrennial assessment of U.S. high school seniors’ math and reading skills are in, and not much has changed. 

Twelfth-grade students showed no improvement in math and reading scores from 2009, according to the results from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Results of the federally sponsored exam were released Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics. The program ​assesses what students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades know and can do in core subjects, including math and reading. 

"Stagnation is unacceptable. Today’s 12th-graders​ are performing no differently in mathematics and reading in 2013 than they did in 2009," David P. Driscoll, chairman​ of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the federally sponsored program​, said in a release.

More than 92,000 12th-graders across the U.S. were tested in math or reading. Scores were reported numerically ​and were also divided into three categories that reflected students' ability to do grade-level work: basic, proficient and advanced. A student at the basic level had some of the knowledge and skills necessary to do the work, while students who received an advanced score had the greatest understanding of the information, according to the test's creators. 

[Read about how a record number of high schoolers are graduating.]

Only 26 percent of students assessed in math scored at or above proficient in 2013, the same percentage as those tested in 2009, the results show. In 2009, achievement in math did improve slightly from 2005.

Overall, high school seniors​ continued to do better in reading than math. Thirty-eight percent of students tested performed at or above proficient in 2013. However, scores have remained virtually the same since 1994 and are slightly lower than scores from 1992. When the reading assessment was first administered in 1992, only about 10,000 students participated. More than 47,000 students participated in the 2013 assessment. 

"By including more students, we could be testing more lower-performing students," John Easton,​ director of the Institute of Education Sciences and acting commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. 

[Find out how the SAT changes may not level the playing field for low-income students.]

Overall achievement gaps persist among racial and ethnic groups, as well as between the genders, but have neither narrowed nor widened since 2009, results show.

White and Asian and Pacific Islander​ students continue to score significantly higher in math and reading than Black, Hispanic and American Indian and Alaska Native students. Boys continue to perform slightly better in math than girls, while girls continue to perform better in reading.

Numerical scores among these groups have remained virtually the same since 2009.  

The only group of students that saw a significant change in scores were English language learners. Math scores for these students were seven points lower in 2013 than in 2009.

Easton​ recommended that officials and educators spend time analyzing the content of the exam in order to determine what the results mean for students. Sample questions are available on the National Center for Education Statistics website

"I think we sometimes pay too much attention to the numbers and the scores without actually attending to what is being assessed," he said. 

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