March 2007
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Report Profiles Reading and Mathematics Proficiency of High School Seniors

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences administered reading and mathematics assessments to a representative national sample of high school seniors. Part of the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), these assessments provide a snapshot of what students are learning in high school.

NAEP’s 2005 findings, presented in a new report, have implications for secondary and postsecondary education alike. According to the report, student performance in reading has declined since 1992 for all but the most advanced students. In mathematics, student performance could not be compared to previous years because of changes in test design, but the study did find troublingly low levels of mathematics proficiency: less than a quarter of high school seniors scored at the proficient level. In reading, the scores were slightly better, with more than a third scoring at the proficient level; nonetheless, less than half of the seniors who said they expected to attend a four-year college were proficient in reading.

The NAEP report describes specific abilities that correspond to “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced” levels of performance. In reading, proficiency indicates the ability “to show an overall understanding of the text, which includes inferential as well as literal information” and the ability to analyze literary devices. Students who are proficient in mathematics, according to NAEP, “should be able to select strategies to solve problems and integrate concepts and procedures”; this includes the ability to perform calculations involving right triangle trigonometry, to “use measures of central tendency and variability of distributions,” and to “identify, manipulate, graph, and apply linear, quadratic, exponential, and inverse proportionality” functions.


FINDINGS

Reading Proficiency

  • In 2005, 43 percent of white students, 16 percent of black students, 20 percent of Hispanic students, 36 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students performed at or above the proficient level in reading.
  • From 1992 to 2005, there was a two-point decrease (on NAEP’s five-hundred-point scale) in “reading for information,” a six-point decrease in “reading to perform a task,” and a twelve-point decrease in “reading for literary experience.”
  • Seventeen percent of students who reported that neither of their parents finished high school and 47 percent of students who reported that at least one parent finished high school read at the proficient level.
  • Fifteen percent of students who reported that they planned to work full-time after graduating from high school read at the proficient level, compared to 48 percent of those who planned to attend a four-year college.

Mathematics Proficiency

  • In 2005, 29 percent of white students, 6 percent of black students, 8 percent of Hispanic students, 36 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 6 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students performed at or above the proficient level in mathematics.
  • Seven percent of students who reported that neither of their parents finished high school and 34 percent of students who reported that at least one parent finished high school performed at the proficient level in mathematics.
  • Fifteen percent of students who reported never taking a mathematics Advanced Placement class and 55 percent of those who did take such a class performed at the proficient level in mathematics.

More information about the report, including the complete findings of the NAEP assessments, is available online.

High school preparation in key areas such as reading and mathematics is a central concern of the newly released report from AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) campaign, College Learning for the New Global Century. Visit LEAP online for more information about the campaign or to download (PDF) or purchase a copy of the report. The upcoming issue of Peer Review, “Student Preparation, Motivation, and Achievement,” provides additional information on achievement in high school and college preparation.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Between 1992 and 2005, the percentage of high school seniors reading at or above a basic level decreased from 80 to 73 percent; the percentage reading at or above proficiency decreased from 40 to 35 percent.
  • In 2005, only 23 percent of high school seniors performed at or above the proficient level in mathematics.
  • Female students outperform male students by thirteen points on average in reading (based on NAEP’s five-hundred-point scale); in mathematics, male students outperform female students by an average of two points.

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