Black Reading Scores Plummet in 2019 Testing

The latest NAEP scores are out for 4th and 8th graders. For 8th graders, they show that the average reading score dropped three points and the average math score dropped one point over the past two years. Obviously that’s not good news, but these are small changes on a single test and it’s hard to draw any longer-term conclusions from them. They certainly don’t represent a “student achievement crisis,” as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put it.

Besides, if I’ve taught you anything, it’s this: at a minimum, you have to decompose the scores by race to see what’s really going on. Often it turns out that—

Yikes! The 50th percentile is basically the median score, and among African American 8th graders it dropped five points. That’s roughly half a grade level. And the results were even worse among low performers.

I don’t have any special explanation for this, but that’s a big drop. I can’t say whether this counts as a “crisis,” but considering the already grim test gap between white and black students it sure comes close to one. Let’s see if Betsy DeVos gives it the attention it deserves.

POSTSCRIPT: For the record, 8th grade math scores were unchanged for all races and all performance levels.

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.