U.S. test scores languish, and federal and state experts cite Common Core shift

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama
(Image credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. got its grade school report card on Wednesday, and it wasn't great. The 2015 Nation's Report Card, or National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was especially bad when it came to math, recording the first decline in national math scores of fourth and eighth graders since 1990. In the 2015 tests, 40 percent of fourth graders were deemed proficient in math, down 2 percentage points since 2013, as were 33 percent of eighth graders, also down 2 points. On reading, fourth grade scores were essentially flat, at 36 percent proficiency or higher, while average eighth grade scores fell 2 points, to 34 percent.

State and federal education officials urged parents and teachers not to panic. Their explanations ranged from statistical anomaly to decreasing family income among grade schoolers to the changing racial demographics to the growing number of tests — a point President Obama made on Saturday. The mushrooming of state and federal tests may be leading to test fatigue or parents opting out of tests on behalf of their offspring. "If I was a student, it would be hard to know which ones to take seriously," said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "I know at that point we were all talking about opting out and lots of different things were going on."

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.