Press Release

WASHINGTON – While we applaud improved graduation rates for all groups of students, we’re not cheering too loudly, because, as new data from the “Nation’s Report Card” show, high schools have not prepared students for the goal that their parents have for them and the goal that they have for themselves — which is to go to college and earn a degree.

Today’s results from the 2015 12th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that our education system has a long way to go in ensuring that all students — especially low-income students and students of color — receive the learning opportunities they need to be prepared to pursue whatever postsecondary path they may choose after high school.

For most groups of students — including students of color and low-income students — 12th-grade NAEP scores have declined or stagnated in both reading and math since 2013.

Longer term trends are mixed: Math scores are higher than they were a decade ago, with the biggest increases for low-income and Latino students. In reading, scores are higher than they were a decade ago for low-income and Latino students, but show no improvement for black and Native students.

Today, far too few students are reaching the proficient or advanced achievement levels, and disparities between groups remain wide:

  • Only about 1 in 4 low-income, Latino, and Native 12th-graders — and 1 in 6 black students — scored at the proficient level in reading in 2015, as compared with closer to half of white and higher income students, respectively.
  • In math, only 11 percent of low-income 12th-graders scored at the proficient level, compared with 32 percent of higher income students.
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 black and Native students scored proficient in math, as compared with 30 percent of white students.

“Simply put, high schools are treating graduation as the end goal for too many low-income students and students of color, rather than ensuring that all students have access to learning opportunities that will prepare them for college and the workplace,” said Daria Hall, vice president for Government Affairs and Communications at The Education Trust. “These results create a real urgency to build strong high schools that meet with students’ and parents’ future goal. Let’s not waste it.”

There are real opportunities for stakeholders at all levels — from policy makers to classroom teachers — to turn these troubling patterns around and to prepare all students for success. For example:

  • States, under ESSA, must build strong accountability systems that expect improvement toward college- and career-readiness for all groups of students and ensure action is taken when any group is struggling.
  • High school leaders must ensure that students are taking the right sequence of courses to be prepared for postsecondary options. Our recent analysis shows that nearly half of high school graduates completed neither a college- nor career-ready course of study, while only 8 percent completed a full college- and career-prep curriculum, and less than one-third of graduates completed only a college-ready course of study.
  • Districts must ensure that these courses are taught by strong, well-resourced teachers. This means turning around that all-too-prevalent pattern of low-income students and students of color being disproportionately assigned to teachers who aren’t equipped to help them succeed.
  • Students must have access to high-quality classroom assignments linked to rigorous standards and assessments.