WASHINGTON — Students preparing to leave high school are faring no better in reading or math than their peers four decades ago, the government said Thursday. Officials attributed the bleak finding to more lower-performing students staying in school rather than dropping out.
The news was brighter for younger students and for blacks and Hispanics, who had the greatest gain in reading and math scores since the 1970s, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card.
‘‘In some ways, the findings are full of hope. Today’s children ages 9 and 13 are scoring better overall than students at those ages in the early ’70s,’’ said Brent Houston, of Shawnee Middle School in Oklahoma and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which gives the tests.
But he also noted challenges for older students.
‘‘Since the early 1970s, the average scores of 17-year-olds in both reading and mathematics have remained stagnant,’’ he said.
The report says that in reading, today’s 9- and 13-year-olds are outperforming students tested in 1971, when that skill was first tracked. They also did better in math, compared with students in 1973, the initial measurement.
Officials suggest the results for 17-year-old students reflect fewer low-performing students dropping out.
For instance, Hispanic students had a 32 percent dropout rate in 1990 and that number fell to 15 percent in 2010, said Peggy Carr, an associate commissioner with the National Center for Education Statistics.
‘‘These students are generally scoring at the lower end of the distribution but it’s a good thing that they’re staying in school,’’ Carr said.