The government's new report on "The Condition of Education" in 2012 contains good news and bad news. More to the point, it reveals critical areas where there is no news, because we lack vital data. Those blind spots seriously hinder our decision making.
Let's start with some good news. Scores in 4th and 8th grade have been steadily rising over the past two decades. In high school, more students have been taking challenging math and science classes. In 2009, 16 percent of high school graduates had taken calculus, up from 7 percent in 1990. In Algebra II, coursetaking rose from 54 to 76 percent. Geometry? Sixty-four to 88 percent. Science shows similar results. In Chemistry, for example, coursetaking in Chemistry rose from 49 to 70 percent over the same time period.
Now for some bad news. Scores in 12th grade math haven't really budged over the past twenty years. It's not entirely clear why. Some argue that high school seniors are much less likely than 4th or 8th graders to take a no-stakes test like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) seriously. Others say that higher course titles can be deceiving. A course that bears the name of Algebra II, for example, might really be a close cousin of Algebra I--or worse. Whatever the reason, the lack of movement in 12th grade scores should worry us, because it suggests that at least some of those 4th and 8th grade gains are evaporating in high school.
And now no news. How much progress have our 12th graders been making in science? We don't know, because the framework for the science NAEP changed in 2009, making long-term comparisons impossible. How are individual states doing in 12th grade math and science? We're not sure, because no states take part on the 12th grade science test, and only 11 states take part in the math test.
Unfortunately, it's not true that no news is good news. If we're serious about getting many more students ready for college and careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), we can't very well tolerate such a serious blind spot in 12th grade.