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Study: State Test Scores Lag at High School Level

A new analysis of state test scores finds that while states made gains in math and English/language arts between 2002 and 2009, such gains were less common at the high school level than they were in 4th and 8th grades.

The study, released today by the Center on Education Policy here in Washington, shows that while 32 states reported gains by 4th graders and 8th graders on reading or English/language arts tests between 2002 and 2009, only 25 reported likewise at the high school level. Thirty-six states reported gains in math for 4th and 8th graders, compared with 27 for high school students.

The CEP finds that states also saw larger increases at the two lower grade levels than they did in high school. Ten states reported increases of 2 percentage points or more in the proportions of students scoring "proficient" in math, and 11 states did so in literacy, compared with 19 states in each subject at the 4th grade level, 21 in literacy in 8th grade, and 24 in math at that level.

Additionally, the gaps between students scoring at the "advanced" and proficient levels widened in high school: One-third of the states reported declines in the proportions of students at the top of the scoring heap.

Authors of the study write that based on what they found, there is "reason for concern about the achievement of high school students." That's putting it mildly. Their findings add yet another layer to the sobering messages in 17-year-olds' flatline trends on NAEP, in the dropout statistics, and in the literature on student engagement that tell us that our high schools, on the whole, are not exactly soaring.

The CEP's findings are based on the test scores of 40 states and the District of Columbia, since they were the ones that had sufficient data over a period of at least three years. The report is the fifth in a series on state test-score trends, but is the only one that focuses on high-school-level achievement.

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