This past fall new national data were released on the academic achievement of our young people. In some ways the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, were consistent with other recent performance indicators: There is some progress in math and almost none in reading, and more progress in elementary schools than in middle schools (where reading levels actually have declined since 2003).
This modest progress is disappointing. Despite the intense focus on improving the academic achievement of struggling students since enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, we have to stop and ask why more progress has not been made in narrowing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers.
The results are sobering from at least one other perspective: The knowledge and skills of students of color and those from low-income families are not just low compared with white and more-affluent students. They are also low in absolute terms, shutting these students out from meaningful civic engagement and economic opportunity.
The scores of African American, Latino and low-income fourth-graders indicate that the average student in these groups demonstrates skills below the level required to classify numbers as even or odd. Eighth-grade students from all of these groups on average score far below the level that would indicate an ability to convert written numbers into decimals.