WASHINGTON — In an abysmal showing, only about one-quarter of U.S. high school seniors performed solidly in math in a major assessment known as the nation's report card, reinforcing concerns that large numbers of students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.
In reading, almost 4 in 10 students reached the "proficient" level or higher.
In both subjects on the 2013 exam there was little change from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th-graders. The results, released Wednesday, come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.
The stagnation is "unacceptable," said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the exam. "Achievement at this very critical point in a student's life must be improved to ensure success after high school."
The results follow the just-released and seemingly more encouraging research that U.S. high school graduation rates in 2012 reached 80 percent, a record.
In reading, the 38 percent share of students performing at or above proficient was lower than when the assessment was first given in 1992, when it was 40 percent. Scores have remained similar since 1994.
Past comparisons in math date only to 2005. Scores increased from 2005 to 2009.
Even as 12th-grade scores have stagnated, fourth- and eighth-grade students have made slow but steady progress on the exam since the early 1990s; most progress has come in math.
At all levels, there continue to be racial disparities.
Among high school seniors, white and Asian students scored higher on average on the recent results in both reading and math than black, Hispanic and American Indian students. Asian students scored higher than white students in math but did not do significantly better in reading. As in past years, male students did better than female students in math, but females outperformed males in reading.