The 2019 Nation’s Report Card shows that 2 out of 3 U.S. fourth and eighth graders in public school can’t read proficiently at grade level, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos described Wednesday as “devastating” and a “wake-up call.”

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) released Wednesday the results of the latest biennial standardized test, which registered overall declines in math and reading proficiency among eighth graders and only slight improvement in reading among fourth graders.

Mrs. DeVos chided “Big Ed” for absorbing higher costs but producing disappointing results in remarks at the National Press Club in Washington.

“It’s way past time we dispose with the idea that more money for school buildings buys better achievements for students,” said Mrs. DeVos, who has advocated allowing more federal dollars for school vouchers and charter schools.

The Nation’s Report Card began testing in 1992. A random sampling of nearly 300,000 fourth and eighth graders nationwide participated in this year’s testing.

About a third of fourth graders are proficient in reading, while big gains in fourth-grade math in the 1990s and 2000s having mostly flatlined.

Among the report’s bright spots, Mrs. DeVos improvement fourth-grade reading and math and eighth-grade math in Mississippi, while most of the nation saw no improvement or a decline.

“But that’s not because taxpayers spent more money,” the education secretary said. “It’s because Mississippi put a singular focus on student achievement, especially literacy.”

Mrs. DeVos also pointed to Florida for getting the most bang for its buck in per-pupil spending. State officials spend just below $9,000 per pupil — well below the national average, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances.

“Doing better began with introducing education freedom,” said Mrs. DeVos, noting the Sunshine State’s expansion of charter schools, tax credits and school vouchers.

However, Florida’s scores declined between 2017 and 2019 in reading and remained unchanged in math.

Michael Petrilli, president of education reform at the Thomas Forum Institute, hypothesized that flatline testing trajectories suggest performance decreases can be tied to trauma suffered by families and spending cuts by school districts during the Great Recession.

In the test’s first year, eighth graders scored a national average of 263 in mathematics. While this year’s 282 is an improvement over 30 years, eighth graders topped 280 points in 2007. A similar trajectory describes fourth-grade math and reading performance since 2007.

Reading scores for eighth graders have risen by 3 points since 1990.

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