- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

More than three out of four fourth-graders in the District lack basic math skills — and that's the good news.
Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released yesterday show that students in the District, Maryland and Virginia joined their peers across the nation in recording higher mathematics scores last year on the test, which is widely referred to as "the nation's report card."
Although the nationwide scores were slightly improved, there was little room for celebration. The percentage of fourth-graders nationally who are proficient in math skills is 26 percent, up from 21 percent in 1996. Eighth-graders improved from 24 percent proficiency in 1996 to 27 percent.
Gary Phillips, acting commissioner of education statistics, said all students should be performing at or above the proficiency level, demonstrating solid academic performance over challenging subject matter.
"Despite this improvement, it is clear that with only a quarter of our fourth- and eighth-graders performing at or above proficient levels on this exam, we're not doing as well as we need to," said U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige.
Virginia fared best in this region. The percentage of Virginia students who performed at a "proficient" level increased to 25 percent for fourth-graders and 26 percent for eighth-graders. Four years ago, 19 percent of Virginia fourth-graders and 21 percent of eighth-graders demonstrated proficiency.
"It's no coincidence that we're seeing this sharp rise in scores," said Virginia Board of Education President Kirk Schroder. "You cannot look at the dramatic increase in these results and not give credit to Virginia's Standards of Learning program."
While 76 percent of fourth-graders in the District performed below basic achievement levels, the scores were better than those in 1996, when 80 percent performed below basic levels. Only 6 percent demonstrated proficient skills this year.
"It's a slight incline from the last testing period in 1996," said D.C. schools spokeswoman Denise Tann. "We know we still have a ways to go."
The proficiency level among Maryland fourth-graders was unchanged from 1996 at 22 percent but jumped from 24 percent to 29 percent among eighth-graders.
"The results indicate that Maryland students are performing similarly to their peers across the nation," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "This shows the reforms we have been making are affecting grade eight students greatly, but we need to do more to accelerate improvement in grade four."
Minorities also scored well in Maryland and Virginia, where the percentage of black and Hispanic eighth-graders performing above the basic level equaled or outpaced the improvements of white students.
The NAEP test was instituted by congressional mandate in 1969. The latest edition was based on a framework developed for the 1990 exam. Officials say it has been refined but is "comparable" to past exams. Knowledge of mathematics, algebra and geometry are tested, along with questions dealing with measurement and statistics. Several problems require written responses in which students explain their answers. Students are allowed to use calculators on about a third of the questions.
The test is administered every four years. About 250,000 students were tested last year, including about 200,000 in state samples of grades four and eight combined. A national sample tested 50,000 students in grades four, eight and 12. Forty states participated, and students were chosen randomly for testing to create a sample that is representative of the overall student population.

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