- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Last week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) issued its first mandatory report since the No Child Left Behind Act established NAEP exams as the standard against which state-adopted tests would be judged.

The 2003 NAEP math test revealed that significant progress has been achieved since 1990, but much more needs to be done. Disturbingly, the NAEP reading exam showed that little improvement has been made in more than a decade. Meanwhile, massive achievement gaps remain between the performance of white students and minorities in math and reading. Finally, both the reading and the math exams confirmed how poorly — in the most extreme sense — D.C. Public Schools are performing in both absolute and relative terms.

Compared to 1990, the proportion of fourth-grade students performing at or above the basic level in math increased from 50 percent to 77 percent. Those performing at or above the proficient level increased from 13 percent to 32 percent. Compared to 15 percent in 1990, 29 percent of eighth-graders this year performed at or above the proficient level in math. While undeniable progress has been achieved in math, the fact remains that more than two- thirds of the students in both grades are still unable to perform at the proficient level.

The nearly imperceptible progress recorded in reading among fourth- and eighth-grade students remains unacceptable. While 29 percent of fourth-graders were able to read at or above the proficient level in 1992, only 31 percent can today. Comparably minute progress was recorded among eighth-grade students.

By far the most disappointing results related to the performance of students in D.C. Public Schools. An astounding 69 percent of D.C. fourth-graders (compared to 38 percent nationally) and 53 percent of D.C. eighth-graders (compared to 28 percent nationally) were unable to read even at the substandard basic level. Since 1992, the percentage of D.C. fourth-grade students able to read at the proficient level has remained an abysmal 10 percent, reflecting no improvement at all. In math, 64 percent of D.C. fourth-graders (compared to 24 percent nationally) and 71 percent of eighth-graders (compared to 33 percent nationally) performed below the basic level.

In 2003, 93 percent of D.C. fourth-graders and 94 percent of eighth-graders performed below the proficient level in math. Ninety percent of D.C fourth- and eighth-grade students were unable to read at the proficient level.

In the face of the demonstrated long-term inability of D.C. schools to improve upon their indisputably disgraceful performance levels, those who continue to oppose a federally funded experimental voucher program deserve to be held responsible for the contemptible status quo.

Correction: An editorial in yesterday’s editions, “Let them smoke in peace” incorrectly stated that D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz is not up for re-election next year. Her at-large seat will be one of two on the 2004 ballot.

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