Lackluster report card 'no big surprise' to US education secretary

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress showed stagnant reading scores and a dip in math proficiency among fourth and eighth grade students.

Ty Wright/AP
Sixth grade teacher Carrie Young answers questions from her students about an exercise on their laptops as they practice for the the Common Core State Standards Test in her classroom at Morgan Elementary School South in Stockport, Ohio, Feb. 12.

The Nation's Report Card is in, and American schoolchildren are not faring too well in math and reading.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, released Wednesday, found fourth and eighth-grade mathematics scores declined two and three points, respectively, between 2013 and 2015.

The average eighth-grade reading score dropped three points. Fourth-grade reading scores remained unchanged.

NAEP is administered every two years and provides a glimpse of how fourth and eighth grade students perform in math and reading.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the latest national scores were disappointing, but also the news doesn’t "come as a big surprise."

"We should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that 'implementation dip' is part of what we're seeing here," Mr. Duncan told reporters. "I would caution everyone to be careful about drawing conclusions ... anyone who claims to have this all figured out is pedaling a personal agenda, rather than an educational one."

While 2015 results fell, overall scores in both math and reading have moved steadily upward since national assessment tests began in the 1990s.

Thirty-six percent of fourth graders were at or above the proficient level in reading, about the same as 2013. Only 34 percent of eighth-graders were proficient or better in reading. But both measures were sharply higher than 1990 results.

Forty percent of fourth-grade students were at or above proficiency in math this year. For eighth graders, just 33 percent of students were proficient or better in math.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said one year's worth of data shouldn't send the nation's schools and teachers off in a different direction.

"Having the higher academic standards caused the states and teachers and districts to change the way they're teaching certain things," Minnich told the Associated Press. "We may be in a place where some of the questions that are asked on this national test aren't being taught at the same time they were being taught before."

In recent years, most states rolled out Common Core learning standards. They spell out what students should know in English and math at each grade level, with a focus on critical thinking and less of an emphasis on memorization. But Common Core has become contentious and some states are reviewing their use of it.

The NAEP tests don't align completely with Common Core, but NAEP officials told the AP there was "quite a bit" of overlap between the tests and the college-ready standards.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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