Are High School Students Prepared For The Real World?

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Nation’s High School Report Card

The 2013 mathematics section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), American high school seniors performed terribly, with only about 25 percent performing well. As a result, the nation’s high school seniors appear to be entering the workplace in large numbers ill prepared for university studies or advanced demands from the workplace.

Nation's High School Report Card

Reading was a little better, as about 40 percent earned a rating of Proficient or higher. This outcome reflects only scant change from 2009, the last time seniors took the NAEP. These results come from a national sampling of 92,000 private and public school students. According to David Driscoll, who chairs the policy board for the exam, the level of stagnation in these results is not acceptable. Speaking for the National Assessment Governing Board, he said that “achievement as this very critical point in a student’s life must be improved to ensure success after high school.”

Given that high school graduation results are climbing in the United States, to an all-time high of 80 percent in 2012, this news may indicate that high school diplomas are less challenging to attain and are therefore of less real value. Another interpretation could be that students who would have dropped out in previous years were still in school this year and so were part of the sample of students who sat for the examination.

This year’s level of reading proficiency was the lowest in the history of the test; the first reading administration took place in 1992. Math debuted in 2005, and scores went up in 2009 but have hit a plateau since.

For those looking for answers, student responses to surveys about their own educational surroundings are an instructive commentary on the current state of learning.

1. The vast majority of students say that they enjoy reading. However, those who do not enjoy reading perform much more poorly on reading than those who do.

2. Students who discuss interpretations of reading in class perform much higher on reading assessments than those who do not.

3. Students who had taken calculus performed much better on the math test than those who had not.

4. Those who consider math their favorite subject or thought that learning math would help them succeed in the future performed significantly higher on the math portion of the test.

An encouraging counterpoint to these scores is the fact that results for third and eighth grade students are progressing slowly but steadily, with the highest amount of progress in math. Currently, about a third of all college students need remediation at the university level, and one of the central aims of policymakers is to ensure that all high school graduates are ready for college without remediation.