Recent results from the Nation’s Report Card show that America’s eighth graders are trailing behind in math and reading, while fourth graders are doing worse in math but slightly better in reading.
The Nation’s Report Card is a standardized test given randomly to those two grades every two years.
Overall, just over a third of the U.S.’s eighth graders are proficient in reading and math, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
For the nation’s fourth graders, roughly a third are proficient in reading, and over 40 percent are proficient in math.
“This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the AP.
The country’s eighth graders’ lagging scores, in particular, are worrisome, officials say.
Associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics Peggy Carr told reporters during a conference call that “eighth grade is a transitional point in preparing students for success in high school, so it is critical that researchers further explore the declines we are seeing here, especially the larger, more widespread declines across states we are seeing in reading.”
DeVos used the widening gap between low- and high-achieving students to further advocate for her proposed policy of expanded school choice.
“It’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs,” she argued.
The 1990s and 2000s saw steady student improvement in math but little since then. Reading scores have only improved marginally since the test was first administered in 1992, according to the AP.
Some have theorized that the decreased performance is connected to the budget cuts during the Great Recession.
“What we saw is that great calamity had lingering impacts,” said Mike Petrilli, president of education reform group the Thomas Fordham Institute.
Despite nationwide struggles, the state of Mississippi showed improvement all around. For the first time in the test’s history, Mississippi fourth graders scored above the national average in math and at the national average in reading. The state’s eighth graders continued to improve in math and held steady in reading.
Large-city public schools, which serve a higher number of low-income and English language learning students, are still below the country’s averages, but narrowed their achievement gap, the AP reports.