12th Grade NAEP Math Scores
The regular release of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress ("the nation's report card") is always a sobering experience. I don't like to be alarmist, but inevitably, it's a cause for some national self-flagellation.
The 2005 12th grade math scores are no exception. While tests given to 4th and 8th graders suffer from a certain reality that pretty much everyone attends these grades, by 12th grade, many people who have no interest in learning have removed themselves from school. Those remaining should skew toward the reasonably advanced. Indeed, the majority of high school graduates intend to go on to additional education.
Unfortunately, they don't seem to be learning the basic math skills that further education should require. Check out the sample 12th grade NAEP math questions here. The first is a very simple multiple choice geometry question; 73% of students got it right. The second is a simple algebra question that requires you to cough up an answer; only 23% of students got it right. Many students take algebra before geometry, so it seems odd at first glance that the geometry question was easier for people than the algebra one. But I think there's an unfortunate dynamic going on here that doesn't indicate good things for the rigor of most kids' curriculum.
The first geometry answer could likely be deduced through some real world observations (answer A isn't right since the second angle looks bigger than the first angle... and if you've ever doodled shapes inside a protractor in class, you might know a straight line totals 180 degrees). Children see streets in real life, too, so there's less of an eyes-glazed-over response to the question. Plus, it's multiple choice. You might give it a shot. The second question, though, with its f(x) and f(g(x)) language, doesn't feature a lot of real world reference points. Answering it requires a confidence gleaned from having taken and understood algebra. It is a pure content question, measuring content mastery. And unfortunately, three-quarters of high school seniors seem to lack that.
It goes without saying that children who can't do algebra will have an awfully hard time succeeding in college-level math. And a great number of jobs -- particularly fast-growing, high-paying ones -- will require some college-level math. U.S. schools do not seem to be preparing the majority of high school seniors for these career paths. But hey, at least the kids' grades are good. A report on high school transcripts, released about the same time as the NAEP scores, shows that students now average a 2.98 GPA in high school, higher than in previous years. Too bad their NAEP scores don't show a similar rise.