New Education Data Underlines Challenges Facing High School Seniors

The 3.7 million high school seniors preparing to graduate next spring are facing not just a global pandemic but a reality check on their true preparedness for college and career.

Newly released 12th grade reading scores on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are disappointingly lower than the last NAEP scores in 2015. And while math scores remained relatively steady over the four-year period, just 37 percent of 12th graders scored at a level that would indicate they are prepared for college-level reading and math courses.

NAEP is known as “The Nation’s Report Card” and widely considered one of the best measures of educational attainment for K-12 students. We should certainly pay attention to these results.  

Particularly concerning is that the last NAEP tests were administered in March of 2019—before the main thrust of the COVID-19 pandemic. They do not capture what is likely to be additional learning loss among America’s students as they have grappled with the challenges of learning in remote and virtual settings. Further, the lowest-performing students experienced the largest drops in scores. Those students risk falling further and further behind their peers during this crisis.  

Like all things in education, there is no easy way to solve this nor to diagnose how we got here. Rising high school graduation rates also means a deeper pipeline of students reaching the 12th grade and taking the NAEP test. Socio-economic factors are surely at play (deftly outlined by Fordham’s Mike Petrilli). And there are important conversations happening right now on whether this generation of students has received proper reading instruction (including recent developments where heavily circulated educational materials may *finally* be grounded in accepted research).  

But there are also some things we know work to address challenges in schools. We must fully embrace the science of reading when it comes to literacy instruction and use high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum materials throughout K-12. We also help teachers be better prepared to teach literacy. Given the hurdles posed by COVID-19, we need another strong investment by Congress in coronavirus relief funds to give districts more budgeting stability to pay teachers and help them ensure all students have access to technology needed for remote learning.

Specifically, for high school students, we also need to ensure we are providing pathway and transition programs that help coach them through the college application process.

Ensuring all our young people leave high school prepared for college and career isn’t just good for individuals, it’s good for our entire country and economy. Notably, both the Business Roundtable – a formidable representative and advocate for the strength of American business – and civil rights and education organizations are trumpeting the need to improve education at all levels.

In addition, school districts are adapting to the

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