WASHINGTON — Results from national math and reading tests show slipping or stagnant scores for the nation's schoolkids.
Math scores were down for fourth and eighth graders over the last two years. And reading grades were not much better: flat for fourth graders and lower for eighth graders, according to 2015 results released Wednesday for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam.
The falling mathematics scores for fourth and eighth graders mark the first declines in math since 1990.
The results suggest students have a ways to go to demonstrate a solid grasp or mastery in reading and math.
Only about a third of the nation's eighth-graders were at proficient or above in math and reading. Among fourth graders, the results were slightly better in reading and in math, about two in five scored proficient or above.
The report also found a continuing achievement gap between white and black students.
There were a few bright spots: the District of Columbia and Mississippi both saw substantial reading and math gains.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged parents, teachers, and others not to panic about the scores as states embrace higher academic standards, such as Common Core.
"We should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that 'implementation dip' is part of what we're seeing here," Duncan said in a phone call with reporters. "I would caution everyone to be careful about drawing conclusions."
Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, echoed Duncan.
"One year does not make a trend," Minnich said at a panel discussion Wednesday. "We set this new goal for the country of college and career readiness for all kids. Clearly, these results today show we're not quite there yet and we have some work to do."
The Common Core standards were developed by the states with the support of the administration. They spell out what students should know in English and math at each grade level, with a focus on critical thinking and less of an emphasis on memorization. But they have become a rallying point for critics who want a smaller federal role in education and some parents confounded by some of the new concepts being taught.
The NAEP tests, also known as the "nation's report card," don't align completely with Common Core, but NAEP officials said there was "quite a bit" of overlap between the tests and the college-ready standards.
Among the findings:
—36 percent of fourth graders were at or above the proficient level in reading, about the same as 2013. Only 34 percent of eighth-grade students were proficient or better in reading, a two-point drop. Both measures were sharply higher than 1990 results.
—40 percent of fourth-grade students were at or above proficiency in math this year. That's down two points from 2013, and marks the first decline for that measure since 1990. For eighth graders, only 33 percent of students were proficient or better in math, also a two-point decline.
—Fourth-grade math scores were higher in the District of Columbia and Mississippi — up three points for each. In 16 states, scores dropped. They were flat in the rest. In eighth-grade math, there were no gains across the states, and 22 states had lower scores than in 2013.
—For reading, scores were higher for fourth-graders in 13 states and jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia — up seven points. Mississippi and Louisiana were also higher, both states up six points. At the eighth-grade level, reading improved only in West Virginia, up three points.
—There were no significant changes in the achievement gap for reading between white students and their black and Hispanic peers. But for math, there was a small narrowing in the gap between white fourth graders and their black peers. The average score for white students was 24 points higher, slightly smaller than the 26-point gap in 2013.