The 2009 math scores reported by NAEP, a national assessment, represented the first time since 1990 that no gains were made.
Rich Clabaugh / Staff
For the first time since 1990, America's fourth-graders showed no improvement in math – a disappointing finding in the latest release from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation's report card.
In four states, scores for fourth-graders actually declined between 2007 and 2009 – the first time any state has shown a drop since all 50 states began participating in the assessment in 2003.
The news is better at the eighth-grade level, where scores did rise by two points since 2007. But achievement gaps between white and minority students stayed the same.
"This is a warning light that there's something going on here, and school districts should look into it," says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. But noting that long-term trends are still positive, he says, "it's not an alarm bell."
Particularly surprising is the fact that the plateau is in elementary school – in general, the most reliable source of good news for education gains. And it occurred across the board: There was no change from 2007 for any racial or income group; no change in any achievement gap; and no change in the percentage of students at any of the three achievement levels (basic, proficient, and advanced).
On average, fourth-graders scored 240 points on the exam – up from 213 points in 1990 but unchanged from 2007. Thirty-nine percent scored at or above the "proficient" level – the target benchmark where students should be.
The gap between the scores of black and white fourth-graders was 26 points – down from a 32-point gap in 1990, but unchanged from 2007.
Most observers, like Mr. Jennings, caution against reading too much into a single data point: It may indicate an interruption of the steady growth trend, rather than a reversal of it. But the lack of progress, education advocates also say, is striking enough that the country should be asking hard questions about its math education, particularly for younger students.