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A Nation Still At Risk? Results From The Latest NAEP Recall The Report From 35 Years Ago

IN 1998, we looked back fifteen years since ‘A Nation at Risk’ was released. The progress then was only modest and 35 years later, we are still in danger.

On the 35th anniversary of the release of ‘A Nation at Risk’ these scores are a sobering reminder that we remain a nation at risk with far too many children and young adults poorly educated, unprepared to enter college or the workforce, and ultimately, unable to achieve the American Dream of living a rewarding, prosperous life.


Presented here are past and present reflections on that pathbreaking report, along with critical analysis of the 2017 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and trends of improvement, pockets of persistent stagnation and CER’s assessments and recommendations for the innovation needed to drive real change.

NAEP & A Nation at Risk

Nation at Risk – The Imperative for Educational Reform

A Nation at Risk was a call to action. The National Commission on Excellence in Education was formed and their mandate was to understand the condition of America’s schools. In 1983, the report declared that “the educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

In the wake of the report, states scrambled to respond. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1998, a group of education reform leaders assembled to take a review 15 years of progress. A Nation Still at Risk (1998) found the state of education remained woefully inadequate. 

This week, 35 years since the pathbreaking report declared that “If an unfriendly  foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

And this week, it’s clear we still have not fought our way out of educational failure.


Results from the 2017 assessment in reading and math, released on April 10, 2018, reveal that the Nation’s educational attainment continues to be stagnant.

In 2015 thirty-six percent of fourth-grade and 34 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above the Proficient level in NAEP reading (2015 NAEP reading assessment).

In 2017, it’s a dismal picture. The results are not significantly higher than 2015, according to NCES officials. Average 4th and 8th grade math scores are about the same.

Only 8th grade reading scores saw a statistically significant 1 point increase across the nation.

While officials point to a 20-point gain since the 90s, a majority of students still aren’t proficient in core subject and the US achievement gap between students of color, at risk and advantaged students remains a gaping hole.

Our nation is nowhere near where we must be to meet the demands of a highly technological world and ensure that our students most in need of getting ahead have a chance to participate in the future. (For more, see About the 2017 NAEP Results.)


Florida’s experience validates the recommendations of A Nation at Risk

While most states had no significant results, the state of Florida, and 2 of its biggest districts—Miami and Duval—had unprecedented gains. Across the board, significant gains were made by low income students and students with disabilities.

That’s because starting in 1999 and consistently since, Florida adopted measures which held schools, students and communities accountable for results. Schools improved, threatened by the prospects of losing funds, and students. Over time, the Sunshine state adopted an expansive array of opportunities for students, including public charter schools, private scholarships and tax credits, innovations in online learning, early college programs and more. Teachers similarly benefited from the policy changes guiding teacher quality, according to the National Council of Teacher Quality.

Last year, Florida led all states on CER’s Parent Power! Index, which measures how much power states give to parents to make significant decisions in the educational futures of their kids.

Click image to view Florida and other states on CER’s Parent Power! Index

Florida is not the only state which has improved education for kids having adopted bold innovations. Places like Massachusetts, Indiana, Washington, D.C., and Arizona have made impressive gains in recent years. More analysis here.

This year, several cities opted in to participate in NAEP. There were some notable increases among the 27 urban districts which allowed large samples of their students to be assessed.

Average scores increased in six cities and went down in 5. San Diego went up in both subjects in grade 4, Fresno and Miami went up in math, Boston went up in 8th grade reading, and Philly decreased in 8th grade math. Detroit had a significant drop in both subjects, though officials point out that a difference in the size and scope of the population is different than the last assessment.

No matter how you look at it, though, it’s clear that reforms that ensure more opportunity, more freedom and more innovation have likely contributed to the uptick in some states and communities over time. But it’s not enough.


New data shows that graduation does not equal success (For more, see Correlation Between NAEP & College Readiness.) 

What Should We Learn from the 2017 NAEP Results?

For more, see Important Implications of the NAEP Results.)

WE MUST DO MORE: In 2016, CER cautioned the nation that we were at risk of continued stagnation if we did not act boldly. In A Manifesto—A Movement at Risk, we reminded all that:

“We are faced with a wave of domestic and international turmoil. Education has never been more important to solving both. And yet, the movement to ensure educational attainment for all is at a crossroads. We are losing ground in part because we are losing the argument. And our hopes of systemic change—our progress—will be lost. We will be a nation at even greater risk, if we do not refocus our collective energies and message to connect with the broader universe of education consumers and citizens everywhere.”

The 2017 Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress are yet another wake-up call. Will we be bold enough to act this time?


To stay up-to-date, to advocate and to help us set this straight, sign up for CER Newswire  and/or text CER to 52886.

Mark your calendar for CER’s Silver Anniversary, in the state with the most impressive gains for 2017—Florida—October 25-26, 2018.


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