Seventeen Year Olds Show No Improvement on Nation’s Report Card

This week the National Center for Education Statistics released the 2008 Long-Term Trend Report Card. The report found some progress for 9 and 13 year olds but 17 year old performance remains flat since the early 1970s in reading and math despite large increases in per-pupil spending and billions invested in education reform strategies such as Title 1 for disadvantaged students, No Child Left Behind, and early education. While improvement in the early grades is promising, to date it has not led to improvement at the end of students’ education careers. The bottom line is that by 2008, we have seen cohorts of students who made improvements in earlier years reach the high school testing category. These earlier improvements have not been sustained with older students.

Here is what the NAEP Long Term Trends reports about students at the end of their education career:

  • At age 17, the average score in mathematics in 2008 was not significantly different from the scores in 2004 and 1973.
  • At age 17, the average reading score in 2008 was higher than in 2004 but not significantly different from that in 1971.

This evidence again demonstrates that although we have doubled education spending in real dollars in the last thirty years and spend more money on education than any other industrialized nation, in the end we have not improved outcomes for students at the end of their long stint in public education.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.