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2019 Nation’s Report Card Shows Growing Disparity between High and Low Achievers in Math and Reading

2019 Nation's Report CardThe recent release of the 2019 Nation’s Report Cards for mathematics and reading in grades 4 and 8 illustrates a growing disparity in achievement between the highest and lowest achieving students. The results show the divergence is happening across the nation, across states, and for student groups by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), widely known as the Nation’s Report Card, provides data from the nation, states/jurisdictions, and urban school districts that volunteer to participate in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).  Approximately 296,900 fourth- and eighth-grade students across the nation participated in the 2019 mathematics assessment and nearly 294,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students across the nation participated in the 2019 reading assessment.  Results are available for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools, as well as for the 27 participating large urban districts.

The National Assessment Governing Board hosted NAEP Day to release the results at an event where Peggy Carr, associate commissioner, Assessment Division with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), presented the results. “Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, said Carr. “The lowest performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress in reading from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”

Compared to 2009, the 2019 national results in mathematics were lower for grade 4 and grade 8 students in the lowest-performing percentile, while scores increased for students in grade 4 at the 75th and 90th percentiles and in grade 8 at the 90th percentile. National results show lower scores in reading compared to 2009 for students at the 10th and 25th percentiles in grades 4 and 8, while scores for higher performers increased.

In mathematics and reading for both grades, a little more than one-third of students nationally scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in 2019. Compared to 2017, the average mathematics score was higher at grade 4, where 41% of fourth graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level.

At grade 4 for the nation, average mathematics scores by race/ethnicity show that Hispanic students had a higher average mathematics score in 2019 compared to 2017. Reading scores were lower for White and Black students at grade 4 and for all racial/ethnic groups, except Asian/Pacific Islanders at grade 8 compared to 2017. Mathematics scores increased in nine states/jurisdictions at grade 4, and in three at grade 8. Mississippi was the only state to show an increase in grade 4 reading. The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction to show an increase in grade 8 reading.

During the NAEP Day event, Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, shared reflections on TUDA results. In the last 20 years, the achievement gap between large urban schools and the nation has narrowed by about 50% in reading and math. “We still have more to do, but the era of poor performance in our nation’s urban public-school systems has ended, and it has been replaced by results, accountability and promise,” Casserly said in a news release.

The event also included a panel—a principal, state chief school officer, state lawmaker, and teacher—that examined the results and ways stakeholders can help build more equitable educational outcomes during a discussion titled “Diverging Trend Lines:

  • Caroline Hendrie, executive director, Education Writers Association (moderator)
  • Alice Peisch, Massachusetts state representative
  • Omar Riaz, principal, Broadmoor Elementary School, Miami, Fla.
  • Cicely Woodard, 2018 Tennessee state teacher of the year
  • Carey Wright, Mississippi state superintendent of education

Learn more about the 2019 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Report card.


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Katrina Norfleet

Content Strategist, AACTE