Comparisons of NAEP Results: Two Points of View

Below, two articles are excerpted that come to very different conclusions about the recent NAEP results for high school seniors.

Education Week American Education News Site of RecordEducation Week author Liana Heitin writes:

High school seniors have lost ground in math over the last two years, according to the most recent scores on a national achievement test. In reading, 12th grade scores remained flat, continuing a trend since 2009.

Perhaps the most striking detail in the test data, though, is that the lowest achievers showed large score drops in both math and reading. Between 2013 and 2015, students at or below the 10th percentile in reading went down an average of 6 points on the National Assessment for Educational Progress—the largest drop in a two-year period since 1994. The high achievers, on the other hand—those at or above the 90th percentile—did significantly better in reading, gaining two points, on average, while staying stagnant in math.

In math, the average score was 152 on a 300-point scale, which was nearly two points lower than the 2013 average and constituted a statistically significant decrease. In reading, the average score was 287 on a 500-point scale—statistically similar to the average score two years ago.

When the scores are dis-aggregated by low, middle, and high performers, it’s clear that the low-performers—those at the 10th and 25th percentile—are scoring much lower than they did two years ago.

Twenty-five percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. That includes the 3 percent of students who scored at the advanced level. In reading, 37 percent of seniors scored at or above the proficient level, with 6 percent scoring at the advanced level.

The percentage of students scoring below the “basic” level was significantly higher in both reading and math than it was two years ago. It went from 35 to 38 percent in math, and 25 to 28 percent in reading.

Starting in 2013, NAEP also began reporting on the percentage of students who are considered academically prepared for college, meaning they should be able to do first-year college work without needing remedial courses. In both reading and math, just 37 percent of high school seniors scored at the college-ready level.

brookingslogoBrookings Blog author Brad Hershbein writes:

If you believe this week’s headlines, math and reading scores are on the slide. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for 12th graders just released show falls of 1 point in both average math and reading scores between 2013 and 2015. And since 2005, both the math and reading scores have essentially been flat.

But let’s pause for a moment. First, let’s look at the apparent long-term stagnation. Between 2005 and 2015, average NAEP scores rose by just 1.5 points in math and 1.0 points in reading—not statistically significant in either case. But when we look at scores by race and ethnicity, we see a different pattern. Scores for students in nearly all racial categories for both math and reading showed statistically significant improvements over the decade (the only exception was a non-significant 1-point decline in reading for Blacks):

Hershbein 42816001












Hershbein 42816002












So what is really going with the “stagnation”? The apparent stagnation in the whole population is actually the result of a large increase in the share of Hispanic 12th graders, who score lower on average.

What about the recent dip from 2013? This cannot be the result of racial composition changes, since there is a general fall in scores across racial categories. But we should not rule out other compositional explanations: for example, increased high school graduation rates, especially for Blacks and Hispanics. More students in high school means more students taking the NAEP exam in 12th grade.

To read more from either of these blogs, see

Education Week NAEP blog:

Brooking’s Blog: NAEP Test Results Concerning?