So-called reformers say again and again that the U.S. education system is a failure and that academic performance is declining.

What they never tell you is that the test scores of American students are at their highest point in history, as recorded on the only longitudinal measure of performance, the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Maybe the reformers don’t know that. You can educate them with facts.

In an earlier post, I reported the reading scores. The gains in reading have been slow, steady, and significant.

In mathematics, the gains have been large.

There are two different versions of NAEP.

One is called the long-term trend trend, and it reports the scores on tests that have been given from 1973 to 2008.

The long-term trend tests hardly ever change, so they provide a consistent yardstick over decades.

The other is called “main NAEP,” and it has been reported periodically since 1990 or 1992 (depending on the subject).

Unlike the long-term trend NAEP, main NAEP gets revised and updated, yet still has a consistent trend for academic performance over the past 20 years.

Main NAEP is now given every other year; the long-term trend NAEP is given every four years.

Here are the long-term trend data for mathematics. Remember, same test given every four years from 1973 to 2008:

White students: Age 9, up 25 points; age 13, 16 points; age 17, up 4 points.

Black students: Age 9, up 34 points; age 13, up 34 points; age 17, up 17 points.

Hispanic students: Age 9, up 32 points; age 13, up 29 points; age 17, up 16 points.

On the main NAEP, from 1990 to 2011, here are the data:

White students: fourth grade, up 49 points; eighth grade: up 23 points.

Black students: fourth grade, up 36 points; eighth grade, up 25 points.

Hispanic students: fourth grade, up 29 points; eighth grade, up 24 points.

Asian students: fourth grade, up 29 points; up 28 points.

Don’t let anyone tell you that American education is failing and declining. It’s not true. 

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Source: “The Nation’s Report Card Mathematics 2011: National Assessment of Educational Progress,” U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

“The Nation’s Report Card: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress, Reading 1971-2008; Mathematics 1973-2008,” U.S. Department of Education