When it comes to education, though, it’s always worth peering into the demographics, since socioeconomic factors are so important to student achievement. It looks to me that black eight graders are reading somewhat better. And so are hispanic eighth graders. White eighth graders look to have plateaued since 2002, but improved a lot in 1992–2002. And scores for Asian American eighth graders are also up. Low income kids seem to be doing a bit better.
So I think what’s happening is that we’re actually seeing modest achievements that are being masked by a growing proportion of minority or poor students in the sample. Black kids, Latino kids, and poor kids have all long done worse than white kids or middle class kids. But the performance of the education system is best judged with some kind of demographic controls in place. One way or the other, however, any change taking place is pretty modest.