For nearly 30 years now, the U.S. government has tested nine-, thirteen-, and seventeen-year-olds in reading, math, and science. The information that researchers gleaned from these tests is the closest thing this country has to a national report card on students' academic progress. Today the Education Department released a lengthy study detailing how students have been doing since 1969.
The government's test results are pretty mixed. Today's nine-, thirteen-, and seventeen-year-olds can add, subtract, multiply, and divide better than they could 30 years ago. As they get older, today's students are more skilled in basic geometry, using decimals, percentages, and fractions. In reading, scores improved during the 1970s and '80s. Then they dropped and stayed flat for most of the 1990s. This means kids in all three age groups may have trouble locating and identifying facts from stories or summarizing and explaining what they read. Nine-year-olds today, however, do have a slightly better grasp of science than they did in 1969 when the first science test was given nationwide. But again, science scores for thirteen- and seventeen-year-olds have stalled.
So are students today smarter, better educated than they were 30 years ago? In some way, it's like asking whether baseball players today are better than they were in the past.
"But the trends report puts today's students in on the same field as students from 30 years ago. Today's students are doing better.'
The report points out that a much greater percentage of students today are taking tougher courses. The percentage of thirteen-year-olds taking algebra is up. So is the percentage of seventeen-year-olds enrolled in calculus, biology, and chemistry. Kids are even doing more homework than they did 30 years ago. In math, the gap between boys and girls has all but disappeared. In science, thirteen- and seventeen-year-old boys still do better than girls, but at age nine there's no difference.
Private school students...