Press Release

WASHINGTON (May 7, 2014) — On the heels of encouraging news about rising high school graduation rates for all groups of students, today’s results from the 2013 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that our nation’s high schools are also producing better math results.

Math scores for most groups of students are up since 2005. Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander students have made the largest increases, while African American and white students also showed improvement. Low-income students and their higher income counterparts made similar gains.

Unfortunately, the picture in reading was more mixed. Since 2005, there were gains in reading for Asian, White, Latino, low-income, and higher income students. This is encouraging, as all of those groups had seen stagnation or declines in scores through the 1990s and early 2000s. However, reading performance among African American and Native students remained flat.

“Today’s assessment results suggest that we are making some much-needed improvements,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “But the pattern of those improvements is all too familiar: too slow, especially for the groups of young Americans in danger of being left behind in today’s economy. Longstanding gaps between black, Latino, and Native students and their white counterparts, and between low-income and higher income students, are generally flat or growing at the secondary level. We need to do better.”

The data show faster improvement in some states than others from 2009 to 2013. Arkansas and Connecticut, for example, showed notable gains in both reading and math for students of color and low-income students. For example, African American students in Connecticut showed gains of 15 points in reading, leading to a significant narrowing of the gap with white students. This is especially encouraging because other data sources have shown that Connecticut has some of the widest achievement gaps in the nation. Meanwhile, Latino students in Arkansas showed large gains in both reading and math.

These numbers give us an important look into students’ knowledge and skills at the end of high school. Roughly one quarter of all students scored at or above proficient in math while more than one third of all students scored at or above proficient in reading. Yet the numbers are far worse for some groups of students.

  • African American students were about 2.5 times as likely as their white counterparts to perform below the basic level in both reading and math; Latino and Native students were about twice as likely to be below the basic level in those subjects.
  • Only about 1 in 10 Latino, African American, and Native students scored at or above proficient in math, compared with 1 in 3 white students and nearly 1 in 2 Asian/Pacific Islander students. Similarly, about 1 in 10 low-income students scored at or above proficient in math.
  • Only 2 percent of Latino, Native, and low-income students performed at an advanced level in reading, and only 1 percent of African American students did so. That’s compared with 7 percent of white and higher income students.

According to Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at The Education Trust, these patterns are consistent with other sources of information on students’ readiness for college, the workplace, and civic participation. “Data from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery show that African Americans and Latinos are far less likely to meet minimum academic skills requirements to enter the Army; similarly, data from the ACT show that African American and Latino students are far less likely than white students to meet college-readiness benchmarks.”