Press Release

OAKLAND, CA (October 14, 2009) Today’s results from the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress mathematics (NAEP) released by the U.S. Department of Education reveal that California’s 4th and 8th grade students are neither progressing nor declining in their academic achievement.

Indeed, the data show stagnant NAEP mathematics scores for California’s students since the last time the test was administered in 2007.

“The story is that there is no story, and that is a problem”, said Linda Murray, Acting Executive Director for The Education Trust—West. “We have nothing to celebrate. It is not a high ranking we are holding on to. No improvement means that students in California continue to achieve and rank near the very bottom when compared to their peers around the nation.”

What’s more, achievement gaps between students of color and their more advantaged peers continue to plague California’s public schools. The gaps between African-American and Latino students and their White peers on the NAEP in math have not narrowed at all since 2003, and in some cases, they have actually widened.

In fact, from 2003 – 2009:

  • In 4th grade math, the gap between Latinos and their White peers stagnated in both California and the nation.
  • In 4th grade math, the African-American and White achievement gap remained the same in both California and the nation.
  • In 8th grade math, the African-American and White achievement gap increased slightly in California while simultaneously decreasing at the national level.
  • In 8th grade math, the Latino and White gap remained unchanged in California while narrowing at the national level.

In the continuation of this sad tale, after seven years of consecutive progress, African-American student scores dipped slightly this year in both 4th and 8th grade math. And Latino 8th grade scores came to a screeching halt after dramatic increases since the year 2000.

Stagnant scores and pervasive achievement gaps highlight the problems with math achievement in California – particularly in the middle grades. While we continue to trot out our high and rigorous standards for public display, we refuse to pull back the curtain hiding the sad fact that we simply do not provide equitable opportunities for all students to learn them.

This is particularly true for our 8th grade math standard. In 1998, California’s State Board of Education decided that Algebra I should be the math standard for 8th graders in our state. But in 2009 – only 54% of 8th graders took Algebra I while 40% took a general 8th grade math class. And the achievement and opportunity gaps lie there as well. Only 21% of African-American eighth graders successfully accessed and completed Algebra I in 2008 compared to 57% of their White peers.

But rigorous and coherent standards in math alone will not solve our problem.

“We must stop theorizing amongst ourselves about why students are not achieving and utilize the mountains of existing research to guide our policies and practices to help them succeed”, continued Murray. “We know teachers are the single most important factor inside of the classroom, so let us prepare and support our educators to teach mathematics effectively, while simultaneously allocating the necessary resources to ensure student success.”

“The 2009 NAEP results in math are more boulders thrown on top of a mountain of data that scream at us to pay attention. The fact is that math success is a huge predictor of college success and even for those students who choose not to attend a post secondary institution – higher order math skills are becoming increasingly important for obtaining and retaining living wage, 21st century jobs,” said Murray. “It is both a moral and economic imperative that we address the crisis facing our schools.”

Our students need us – they need us to do more and they need us to do better. And there are reform proposals on the table. But while we have begun to take tentative steps toward them – the time for debate is over. The NAEP data urge us to place a laser-like focus on these proposals and chart a bold course for change.

“Somber as they are, these data serve as a call to action. Other states across the country are proving that it can be done. With the right focus, supports, and resources, we can help struggling students improve. There are no more excuses and demographics are not destiny.

Indeed, it is truly no longer a question of can we do it – but rather – will we do it? And our students are waiting for an answer,” concluded Murray.