Press Release

WASHINGTON (November 18, 2010) – The results released today from the 2009 12th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are unquestionably mixed. The good news is that high school students have made gains in both reading and math. But despite those improvements, staggeringly low achievement overall and enormous gaps between student groups are sobering reminders of the need to redouble our focus and supports for the students and the educators in our nation’’s high schools.

It is important to remember that these NAEP results represent students who actually make it to their senior year. Indeed, of every 100 ninth-graders, about 25 of them aren’’t in 12th-grade four years later, and those 25 are disproportionately low-income and minority students.

On the 2009 assessment, roughly two-thirds of America’s high school seniors fail to read at the Proficient level, and about three-quarters of them miss the mark in math. But as troublesome as these numbers are, the disaggregated results from both the national and state assessments are even more alarming:

  • Only about one in five low-income and minority students is Proficient in reading.
  • About one in 10 low-income and minority students is Proficient in mathematics.
  • Among the states that participated in the assessment, the results tend to mirror those from the fourth and eighth grade assessments. For example, Connecticut had the largest gaps in the nation, in both subjects and for all student groups.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that our high schools are not helping prepare students for the futures to which they aspire: Almost 80 percent of the 12th-graders who participated in the assessment plan to enroll at a two- or four-year college after graduating.

“The hard work of educators to prepare our young people for college and meaningful careers is beginning to pay off,”” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at The Education Trust. ““But that payoff is neither big enough nor fast enough to ensure that all students graduate ready to face the challenges of life after high school. And the persistent gaps indicate that we have a lot of work ahead of us to reach equity in the academic achievement and life chances of low-income and minority students.””

The biggest predictors of college success are taking high-level courses in high school and acquiring strong math skills. But even for those who don’’t plan to go to college, the demands of our economy require them to have the same skills and knowledge as those who are college bound.

To ensure that students graduate ready for college or the workplace, they need two things: rigorous curriculum and strong teachers. And while more and more states are putting all students – rather than just a select few – on the college-prep track, a new analysis of data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey shows that we may be neutralizing that effort by assigning core academic classes in our high-poverty schools to teachers who are utterly unprepared to teach them.

The analysis shows that one out of every five core academic courses -– that is, English/language arts, math, science, and history/social studies -– in America’s high-poverty secondary schools is taught by someone without an academic major nor certification in that subject area. In math, the frequency of out-of-field teaching grows to one in four classes at high-poverty schools. And the trends are similar for schools who educate mainly students of color: At high-minority schools, more than 21 percent of math classes are taught by out-of-field teachers.

““This puts low-income students and students of color at an enormous disadvantage,”” said Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust and co-author of the report, “Not Prepared for Class.” “”Students who are taught by educators with subject-area knowledge tend to achieve at higher levels than those who aren’’t, especially in mathematics. So when low-income and minority kids are assigned to math classes taught by English majors, we dramatically increase the odds against their success by stacking the deck for failure.””

These inequities in teacher assignments are compounded by the fact that few states and school systems give teachers the tools they need to determine whether student work is meeting – or missing – the mark. While states set standards for what high school students should know and be able to do, they typically don’t provide teachers with the supporting curricular materials and model assignments they need to teach those standards. As a result, there can be wildly different expectations for students from one English II classroom to another, even when those classrooms are in the same school or district.

“Dozens of states have signed on to the Common Core standards, which aim all students at college and work readiness. High standards are important, but standards alone won’t get the job done for our kids,” said Hall. “Teachers and students in those states will have meaningful goals to aim for, but we also must ensure that stronger curriculum and instructional supports are in place to help them succeed.”

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