The just-released National Assessment of Educational Progress report on 12th grade performance in reading and mathematics shows no progress from 2009 and in some cases a decline since 1992. Which means far too many of our students are not being prepared for success in higher education and in life.

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2First, a word about NAEP’s Grade 12 exam. Some people believe that high school seniors don’t try to do well on these tests, as they do not count for graduation and high school seniors have other things on their minds. That may be true, but relative performance between racial and ethnic groups or between students whose parents are highly educated and those whose parents did not complete high school would not, on the face of it, be affected by proms and other high school senior pastimes.

More importantly, high school seniors are, by definition, the group of students who did not leave school before reaching that grade and, very likely, the group of students who will in fact receive diplomas. Of the black students in eighth grade in the 2007-2008 school year, 83 percent were in grade 12 for the 2011-2012 school year. Similarly, of the white students in grade 8 in 2007-2009, 90 percent were in grade 12 for 2011-2012. In other words, NAEP tests grade 12 students who are most probably better at school work than many of those tested in grades 4 and 8.

That said, what did NAEP find? Looking just at reading, nationally, scores were unchanged from the most recent prior assessment in 2009 and have decreased from the first round of testing in 1992. Twenty-one years with no progress.

While white scores in reading were the same in 2013 as in 1992, Black scores have declined. The white-black achievement gap, then, has increased by 25 percent over the past 21 years. Twenty-one years with no progress.

The actual level reached was not bad for white and Asian students. Forty-seven percent of these groups were at the Proficient or above levels. Students who were the children of college graduates did slightly better: Forty-nine percent of these middle class students were at least Proficient readers by their senior year in high school. On the other hand, only 23 percent of Latino seniors and just 16 percent of Black seniors could read at the Proficient or above levels. While half of Asian and white high school seniors have been prepared by their schools for college and careers, the schools of three-quarters of Latino students and 84 percent of black students have failed to prepare them for college or intellectually demanding careers. They have prepared them for unemployment and incarceration.

The scores of black high school seniors whose parents completed college are the same as those of white students whose parents did not complete high school. While the scores of all students increased with increasing levels of parental education, the scores of black students increased the least. This is particularly troubling, as the transmission of cultural capital, such as education levels, from one generation to the next is vital for socio-economic mobility.

There is some good news in the report. Connecticut has taught all its students to read at higher than average levels for the nation and has narrowed the White-Black gap. Twenty-six percent of black students in the state read at the Proficient or above levels, as compared to the national average of 16 percent (and Tennessee’s abysmal 12 percent). As there is no reason to believe that black students in Connecticut are profoundly different from black students nationally (or in Tennessee), perhaps the difference is in the quality of schools available to black students in that state, in spite of the fact that its schools are highly segregated as an artifact of the state’s geographical socio-economic segregation. Bad schools in Connecticut are better than good schools elsewhere.

Of course it would be better if black students in Connecticut were allowed to attend good Connecticut schools, even if they do not happen to live in Darien or Westport. Unfortunately, as mothers and grandmothers such as Tanya McDowell and Marie Menard have learned the hard way, that is illegal.