The reading proficiency of fourth-graders and eighth-graders has declined in more than half of U.S. states since 2017, according to the results of a national student achievement test released Wednesday.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, also showed students failed to make significant gains in mathematics.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lamented the generally abysmal results, which she said reflected a “student achievement crisis.”
“This must be America’s wake-up call. We cannot abide these poor results any longer,” DeVos said in a statement.
The NAEP is taken every two years by a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. This year’s results, based on the test scores of about 600,000 students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, showed a decline in performance in almost all categories.
Average scores were on par with those from about a decade earlier, but lower-performing students fared even worse this year than they did in 2009.
“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest performing students are doing worse,” Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, told The Wall Street Journal.
“Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher achieving students made score gains,” Carr added.
Eighth-graders’ reading and math scores both decreased from 2017. Fourth-graders saw a drop in just their reading scores. The average math score for fourth-graders was 1 point higher this year than in 2017.
DeVos expressed alarm at the low level of reading proficiency among students nationally.
Only 35% of fourth-graders were considered proficient in reading, according to the 2019 test results, a drop of 2 percentage points from 2017. Among eighth-graders, only 34% were proficient in reading ― also a decline of 2 percent.
“Our Nation’s Report Card shows that two thirds of American students can’t read at grade level. Two out of three!” the education chief decried, noting that 31 states had seen a decline in their eighth-grade reading scores since 2017, while fourth-grade reading scores had fallen in 17 states.
“Think about the mom or dad who cannot read, and so does not read to their own children at bedtime. Think about what that portends for their lifelong learning journeys. Think about what it means if they are passed along, grade to grade, not reading as they should,” DeVos said.
As the AP noted, most states saw stagnating or worsening test scores, but there were a couple of “bright spots.”
Mississippi and Washington, D.C., were the only two jurisdictions that improved in at least three of four categories.
“Our achievement is at an all-time high in Mississippi,” celebrated state Superintendent Carey Wright.
Some education experts suggested students’ worsening performance could be linked to spending cuts.
In a pointed critique of DeVos, who has sought to slash education funding, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees federal spending on education, urged the education secretary this week to “join House Democrats and families across our nation by supporting increased investments in our public education system,” The New York Times reported.
DeVos shrugged off such suggestions, however, and used the test results to push her argument for expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, including religious schools and privately run charter schools.
“Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient. And nowhere is that more true than in education,” DeVos said.