The governing board for NAEP concludes in a new analysis that only 39 percent of 12th graders are prepared for entry-level college courses in math and just 38 percent are ready in reading.
The announcement comes a week after a fresh set of National Assessment of Educational Progress data, for 2013, showed no change in high school seniors' average scores in either reading or math, as compared with 2009, when 12th graders were last tested.
The National Assessment Governing Board analysis unveiled May 14 seeks to shed light on what those scores mean for students' academic preparedness for college.
"Our hope was [to include] both career and college preparation, but so far the research isn't clear on careers," David Driscoll, the chairman of NAGB and the former education commissioner in Massachusetts, told me. As for college, the new analysis indicates "that slightly less than four out of 10 kids are prepared for college, and that's not a good thing," he said.
Essentially, what NAGB did was set a cut score for the level of achievement a student must reach to be considered academically prepared for college. In math, a student must score at least 163 (on a 0-to-300 scale) to be considered prepared for college; for reading they must score 302 (on a 0-to-500 scale).
In 2013, the average scores for the nation were 153 in math and 288 in reading.
NAEP has long used a "proficiency" score indicating whether students are successful with challenging content. The academic preparedness score set by NAGB, it turns out, is the same as the proficiency score in reading. In math, it is 13 points below the proficiency score. Even so, NAEP will continue to report proficiency in addition to preparedness levels.
"We don't fiddle around with the psychometrics," Driscoll said. "What we've done here is include the concept of preparedness."
The governing board determined the academic preparedness scores by reviewing more than 30 studies over a 10-year period. The studies looked at whether the content on NAEP is aligned with other tests, such as the SAT and ACT; the relationship between performance on NAEP and other tests; and cut scores on college-placement tests, among other factors. All of that research is available on the NAGB website.
With nearly all states having adopted the Common Core State Standards or other college- and career-readiness standards, "it may be that the [academic preparedness] number changes slightly as expectations change," said Driscoll. He emphasized that the research is ongoing.
In addition, the common-core-aligned tests being developed by the two state consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, will debut next spring. Driscoll said NAEP will continue to be the "independent verifier" of how students are performing nationwide.
"Everybody is going to look at those [PARCC and Smarter Balanced] results and say how do we look compared to NAEP?" he said. "We're not going anywhere."
Check out the interactive graphic below to see how the new preparedness scores compare to proficiency levels and average scores.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this blog post incorrectly stated the relationships between the academic preparedness scores and proficiency scores.