Why no gains in 12th-grade math?

Math scores are improving, especially among low-performing students, in elementary and middle school, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. But high school math scores haven’t moved much. And reading scores have declined in high school. Are increased graduation rates to blame?

One hypothesis is about fade-out: The improvements at the elementary level are ephemeral, perhaps because the way math or reading is taught doesn’t set students up for future success. In reading, for example, it’s quite likely that a heavy focus on phonics is helping students to decode better—and post better scores as nine-year-olds—but isn’t giving them the vocabulary or content knowledge to keep making progress in middle school. Another hypothesis is that our high schools aren’t as strong as our elementary schools, perhaps because they haven’t been the focus of as much reform and attention.

Higher graduation rates could be a factor too, Petrilli writes. “We have twelfth-graders in school today who previously would have dropped out. And those students are likely to be very low-achieving.”


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