NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 23, 2007

High school seniors are taking more challenging classes and earning higher grades than ever, but their reading skills have actually worsened since 1992, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education.


  • A record 68 percent of the class of 2005 completed at least a standard curriculum with four years of English and three each of math, science and social studies.
  • That's a huge jump from 1990, when only 40 percent did the same, according to the study of 26,000 public- and private-school transcripts.
  • In 2005, 51 percent of students were doing college-preparatory work, up from 31 percent in 1990, and 10 percent were earning college credit, up from 5 percent in 1990.

Despite these gains, the average high school senior doesn't read as well as those in 1992, the first year the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was given to 12th-graders. In 2005, 35 percent of seniors scored "proficient" or "advanced," down from 40 percent in 1992.

The Brookings Institution's Tom Loveless, who researches the NAEP and course content, said that the reading results "should really be an area of concern" -- and that perhaps even the brightest students don't read as much as they used to.

Others agree.  "Clearly we need to look at some major changes in the way schools are organized and how teaching is delivered," Massachusetts Education Commissioner David Driscoll said.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Grades rise, but reading skills fall, data suggest," USA Today, February 23, 2007.

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