Over the last 40 years, 9-year-old and 13-year-old students have made significant achievement gains according to a report released yesterday  on long-term trends in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Virtually every subgroup of today’s students scores higher in reading and math when compared to their counterparts in the 1970’s. This was true across all levels of achievement, with lower- and middle-performing students making the greatest gains. Gender gaps have narrowed too, with boys closing the gap in reading and girls making gains in math.
Racial and ethnic achievement gaps have also narrowed. Achievement has improved for white, black, and Hispanic students, but black and Hispanic students have narrowed the gap by making larger achievement gains than white students.
Scores have remained steady on some measures while improving on others for 17-year-old-students. Peggy Carr, associate commission of NCES’ assessment division, attributed this mixed bag to the dramatically reduced dropout rate. 17-year-olds that would have dropped out in the 1970s are staying in school and in many cases keeping up with their peers today.
Progress has slowed somewhat since the last long-term trend NAEP assessment in 2008, as scores remained stagnant on some measures and showed very slight improvement on others. There are currently 35 states, including North Carolina, where school funding levels were lower for the 2012-13 school year than they were before the Great Recession began in 2008  even before adjusting for increases in the student population and inflation. North Carolina has reduced education funding disproportionately, cutting over 10%  of per pupil expenditures to fall to 48th among states. While the long-term improvements in educational outcomes are encouraging, these gains appear to be jeopardized by the short-term disinvestment in education that has occurred over the last five years.