Spurred by the tone of reporting over the latest PISA test results, Bob Somerby has been pointing out that American kids have actually improved their school performance considerably over the past few decades. Nobody ever seems to acknowledge that.
And that’s true. Sort of. But there is a caveat: performance in 4th and 8th grade on the national NAEP test has indeed improved. But a lot of that improvement washes out in high school. Here’s the improvement in reading scores since 1992:
Not so good! Here’s math:
Much better—though even a 5 percent improvement is no great shakes. The best way to summarize student performance since the early 90s is that elementary schools seem to be doing a better job but middle and high schools are having a tough time maintaining the improvements. By the time kids actually finish school, they’re doing a little better in math than they used to and about the same in reading.
That said, I think there’s at least one thing that’s clear: today’s kids aren’t doing worse than kids in the past. This seems to be a common belief, but there’s virtually no evidence for it.