American Children Slump in Reading and Math: ‘The Results Are Devastating’

October 30, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

The latest result of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—better known as The Nation’s Report Card—shed a worrying light on the academic performance of American children.

The average reading score for American fourth- and eighth-graders saw a decline since 2017, according to The Nation’s Report Card (pdf), released Oct. 30 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Changes in math scores between 2017 and 2019 were mixed, with an increase among fourth-graders but a decrease in eighth-graders.

Scores lower compared to 2017 except for grade 4 mathematics. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

The decline in reading across all levels of achievement was evident, except for the highest performers in the fourth grade. Meanwhile, scores for the lower performers drove the overall score decrease in eighth-grade math.

Majority of states score lower in grade 8 reading. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

According to the Report Card, Mississippi was the only state to improve in 2019 in fourth-grade reading, and Washington was the only one that improved in eighth grade reading. Fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states, and eighth-grade reading fell in 31. As for math, most states showed stagnant performance. Nine states improved in fourth-grade math, and three states saw improvement in eighth-grade math.

Scores higher in 2019 for most racial/ethnic groups in both subjects and at both grades compared to the early 1990s. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

The Report Card also presents data from different racial and ethnic groups. White, Black, and Asian students mostly maintained their performances in math, while Hispanic fourth-graders scored higher in 2019 than in 2017, and Native American eighth-graders performed worse. By contrast, only Asian students hold their ground in eighth-grade reading.

“Every American family needs to open The Nation’s Report Card this year and think about what it means for their child and for our country’s future,” commented U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a statement following the release of the Report Card. “The results are, frankly, devastating.”

“This country is in a student achievement crisis,” she argued, saying that the situation “has continued to worsen” over the past decade, especially for the “most vulnerable students.”

DeVos called the results “America’s wake-up call.” She said the problem had to be addressed, and the solution should be giving more freedom to parents who want to decide what’s the best way to educate their children, rather than throwing more money at poor-performing schools.

“This Administration has a transformational plan to help America’s forgotten students escape failing schools,” DeVos said. “By expanding education freedom, students can break out of the one-size-fits-all system and learn in ways that will unlock their full potential.”

“They deserve it. Parents demand it. And, it’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs.”

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