U.S. Students Not Making the Grade in Math and Reading

05 November, 2019

A new report shows that most American fourth and eighth graders did not do well on math and reading tests. The latest so-called "Nation's Report Card" was released last week.

There were some exceptions. Students in Washington, DC, made important gains in both reading and math this year, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. Students in the state of Mississippi also made major improvements compared to earlier reports.

Nationally, however, America's eighth graders are falling behind in math and reading. And, math scores among fourth graders also decreased.

A little more than one-third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. Proficient means to be skilled at doing something. About a third of fourth-graders are proficient readers. Over 40 percent are considered proficient in math.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the overall national results show a "student achievement crisis." She also said the problem cannot be fixed by giving more money to public schools.

Instead, she called for expanded school choice. This includes her proposals for school vouchers and greater dependence on privately run charter schools.

FILE - Students attend an eight grade class at Southside Middle School in Denham Springs, Lousiana.
FILE - Students attend an eight grade class at Southside Middle School in Denham Springs, Lousiana.

DeVos said last week that American children continue to fall behind students of the same grade in other countries. But she said with education freedom, American students can compete.

Scott Sargrad is with the Center for American Progress. He writes about education at the kindergarten through 12th grade levels, or K-12. Writing on Forbes.com, he said DeVos is wrong and that "money matters in education." He said the falling scores are because of lower spending on education following the Great Recession of 2008.

Sargrad added that education spending in almost half of the states have not returned to pre-recession levels.

Michael Petrilli, president of the education reform group the Thomas Fordham Institute, agrees. He says data show that scores on the test move up and down along with the country's economic situation.

Sandy Kress was an education advisor to former President George W. Bush. Writing for Education Next, he said it is "most disappointing that the nation has gone nowhere in the last 10 years."

The nationwide test is given to a randomly selected group of students in the fourth and eighth grades every two years.

Students made big gains in math in the 1990s and 2000s but have shown little improvement since then. Reading scores have risen a little since the tests began in 1992.

Both low- and high-performing eighth graders decreased in reading, but the decreases were generally worse for lower-performing students.

In Washington, D.C., public school leader Lewis Ferebee said the improved scores happened for a number of reasons. They include the start of free schooling for all 3- and 4-year-olds living in D.C. The program began in 2008.

"Many of our students are getting a strong start in their learning," said Ferebee. He also credited Washington's effort to increase teacher pay. He says better pay permits D.C. schools "to be competitive at a time when there's a nationwide shortage of good teachers."

For the first time in the test's history, Mississippi fourth graders scored above the national average in math. In reading, they scored equal to the national average. The state remained behind national averages in eighth grade but continued to improve in math and stayed about the same in reading.

Carey Wright is Mississippi's State Superintendent of Education. She said the southern state has been improving early reading education and has been working to help teachers improve math instruction.

America's big-city public schools educate more poor students as well as English language learners. In general, these schools also saw some good news. Big-city schools still performed below the nation as a whole, but the difference was less than before.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

And I'm Anne Ball.

The Associated Press reported this story. Anne Ball adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

assessment – n. the act of making a judgment about how well someone does something

achievement – n. something that has been done or achieved through effort : a result of hard work

according to – prep. as stated, reported, or recorded by (someone or something)

voucher - n. a document that gives you the right to get something (such as a product or service) without paying for it

charter school – n. in the U.S., a school that is established by a charter, is run by teachers, parents, etc., and uses tax money but does not have to be run according to the rules of a city or state

random – adj. chosen, done, etc., without a particular plan or pattern

select – v. to choose (someone or something) from a group

disappointing – adj. failing to fulfill someone's hopes or expectation

superintendent – n. a person who directs or manages a place, department, organization