A student leans back in fatigue or frustration during a lesson. Photo: Courtney Perry for the Washington Post via Getty Images

America's eighth graders in public schools are falling behind in math and especially reading, with their tests declining in more than half of states, according to the latest results from the Nation's Report Card, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: In prepared remarks on Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will note these findings as justification for policy change. DeVos, who is pushing for a $5 billion school choice program, said they "must be America’s wake-up call."

By the numbers: About a third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. Among fourth graders, about a third are proficient in reading, and more than 40% are proficient in math, per AP.

  • Fourth-grade reading scores dropped in 17 states, with New Jersey seeing the biggest drop. Mississippi and the District of Columbia both showed gains.
  • Big-city schools still performed below the nation as a whole, but narrowed the gap.
"The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students."
— Betsy DeVos

The big picture: Students made big gains in math in the 1990s and 2000s but have shown little improvement since then. Reading scores have risen a little since the tests began in 1992.

Methodology: States and measures 4th and 8th graders’ abilities in reading and mathematics every two years. Results are tabulated at the state and national levels and for 27 large school districts in the nation.

Go deeper: Why Betsy DeVos' private school tax credit may not be be the answer

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