“Thirty-nine percent of 12th-grade students have the mathematics skills and 38 percent the reading skills needed for entry-level college courses,” stated the report, which was the first to compare student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to college course requirements.
NAEP is often called “The Nation’s Report Card” because it is the largest standardized test administered nationwide.
Although the report noted that “twelfth-graders' performance in mathematics and reading did not change significantly from 2009 to 2013,” only 39 percent scored 163 or above on the 300-point mathematics assessment, and only 38 percent scored 302 or above on the 500-point reading assessment.
The percentage of high school seniors able to do 12th grade-level math was even lower, with just 26 percent considered at or above the “proficient” level, compared to 38 percent who can read at grade level, according to the report. (See NAEP results.pdf)
Students of Asian/Pacific Island descent were the most prepared for college, with 47 percent – still less than half - testing in the “proficient” or higher range in both math and reading.
However, only 7 percent of African-American high school seniors tested at grade level in math, and just 16 percent are considered “proficient” in reading. In fact, the report noted, the “minority gap” between black and white students was actually larger in 2013 than in 1992, despite the millions of dollars spent to reduce it.
In contrast, only 3 percent of high school seniors scored at the “advanced” level in mathematics, compared to 35 percent considered “below basic.”
Twelfth-graders’ NAEP scores were slightly better in reading, with 5 percent in the “advanced” category and 25 percent “below basic” mastery of the material.
Males tended to do better in math and females better in reading on average, but neither gender managed to break the 50 percent proficiency barrier.
“As NAEP is the country's only source of nationally representative 12th-grade student achievement data, it is uniquely positioned to tell us how academically prepared 12th graders will be for educational pursuits after high school. The results are in—and unfortunately they are lackluster," David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board that sets policy for NAEP, said in a statement.
"But it is only by knowing these sobering data that we can build the sense of urgency needed to better prepare students for higher education," he said.
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and South Dakota had the highest percentages of 12th graders scoring at or above the “proficient” level in math. However, the percentages in Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia were lower than the national average, according to the report.
In reading, 12th graders in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Idaho, New Jersey, Iowa and South Dakota outpaced the national average, while their counterparts in Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia had proficiency levels below the national average.