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Post-Common Core, U.S. Kids Slide On Another Academic Measure

If this test is an early indicator of fourth grade declines, U.S. schools will have increased per-pupil spending 400 percent since the 1970s to no achievement gains.


International test results released this week show U.S. students losing ground on yet another measure in the Common Core era, reading test results for fourth graders. On the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, a comparison given every five years in 58 countries, U.S. fourth graders dropped from 556 in 2011 to 549 in 2016, out of 1,000 possible points.

This caused the United States to drop from fifth on the international comparison to 13th, even though the decline was within the margin of error (i.e., not statistically significant). The decline was even more pronounced among the lowest-performing American students. On this test, U.S. students have made no statistically significant improvement since 2001.

The 2016 slide is especially notable because 2016’s fourth graders have spent virtually their entire schooling inside public schools forced to shift their instruction to fit Common Core. That’s a set of national curriculum mandates and tests the Obama administration imposed in 2010 and began phasing in in 2013. Their lack of progress cannot be linked with other kinds of curricula, as can older students’.

It’s also important because U.S. fourth graders have been almost the only grade level to make any significant gains in achievement since federal meddling in local schools dramatically increased under 2001’s No Child Left Behind. If this test is an early indicator of achievement declines among these youngsters, U.S. schools will have increased per-pupil spending by approximately 400 percent since the 1970s to no achievement gains, which is already the case for U.S. eighth and twelfth graders.

On a press call, Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters “the stagnant performance of students in the U.S. mirrors results of other internationally benchmarked exams, including the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, the blockbuster test that assesses 15-year-olds in reading and math,” U.S. News and World Report paraphrased.

These are the only latest test score declines to follow Common Core’s adoption. There have been zero statistically significant national achievement gains since, although the American public was promised dramatic improvements. This is, of course, exactly what Common Core critics predicted during attempts to repeal Common Core, with plenty of serious evidence to back their claims. They went not only unheeded but were treated to scorn and derision as states kept Common Core under federal and bureaucratic pressure despite broad and bipartisan grassroots opposition.

Here’s former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman on other post-Common Core student achievement declines:

The recent 2015 NAEP results showed a first ever significant decline of 2-3 points – about a quarter of a grade-level worth – in mathematics at both grades 4 and 8, and in grade 4 reading. The decline was broad and deep in most states with just a handful of exceptions, and even formerly excellent states like Massachusetts were not immune. But NAEP scores are only the most recent sign of decline.

  • The ACT scores have been stagnant in the last couple of years, but they show a slight decline since 2009.

  • The SAT scores stayed level since 2007, until they dropped this year on both verbal and math.

  • AP course taking in AB and BC calculus has been rising steadily over the years, yet the number of students who scored a passing grade this year – 3 and above – has plateaued in BC calculus and actually declined in AB calculus for many demographic groups.

NAEP — the National Assessment of Educational Progress, possibly the most trustworthy test of the broader U.S. student population — will publish results from its 2017 iteration in early 2018. The forecast isn’t looking very good.