- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Reports of state progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act show that at least half the nation’s 48.5 million public school students made reading and math achievement gains in the 2003-04 academic year.

Amid complaints from liberals of inadequate funding, and from conservatives of undue federal interference, an analysis shows that more than two-thirds of schools — with a combined enrollment of 21.4 million children — in a dozen states jumped an average of 12 percentage points in reading and math learning achievement last year.

The finding is based on state reports of “adequate yearly progress” analyzed by the privately funded Education Trust and National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE). Both groups emphasize improving achievement of low-income and minority students.

The Education Trust, established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education to encourage school improvement, is directed by veteran education leaders at the University System of Maryland, Harvard University and George Mason University.

The study found that Maryland led the country with 86 percent of its 1,385 public schools and 860,640 students making adequate yearly progress in reading and math scores in grades three, eight and 11 — a 19-point increase from 2002-03.

“These early results demonstrate what close observers have known for a long time — that dedicated educators can narrow and ultimately close these unacceptable gaps in achievement” between white and minority children, particularly those from families in poverty, said Quentin Lawson, NABSE’s executive director.

Ross Wiener, Education Trust’s research director, said the analysis found “very real” progress, but he cautioned that comparing school progress in different states “is of dubious value [because] every state sets its own standards and exercises significant flexibility in crafting accountability plans.”

Comparing student reading and math scores on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress is the most accurate way to measure achievement gaps across the states, he said.

Ohio showed the second-greatest improvement in the report, with 83 percent of its schools making adequate yearly progress, an eight-point increase over the previous year. Virginia made an 11-point gain, ranking ninth among states, with 69 percent of its 2,090 schools making adequate yearly progress.

California, the nation’s largest state school system with 6.2 million students, ranked 10th in improvement, the report said.

The NCLB requires children in all federally funded schools to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level by 2014. States have set adequate yearly progress targets so that schools that are not improving sufficiently can be identified for additional help.

“It’s critical that federal and state policy-makers stay the course and not be swayed by what are often politically motivated attacks on a law that’s starting to spark real changes in the lives of kids,” said Kati Haycock, Education Trust director.

The report highlighted gains in closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities:

• In Illinois, where 41 percent of Hispanic fifth-graders, compared with 76 percent of whites, were proficient in math in 2003. The gap was cut in half last year as 67 percent of Hispanic fifth-graders met state math standards.

• In Delaware, where the reading gap between poor and non-poor fifth-graders was 27 percentage points in 2003, but narrowed to 15 points last year.

• In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., where schools in 2002 had a 35-point gap in math achievement between white and black third-graders, and a similar gap for Hispanic students. Two years later, the white-black gap has narrowed to 16 points and the white-Hispanic gap to 11 points.

“What is clear is that the capacity exists in our public schools to make real progress closing these gaps and that some states are farther along than others,” Mr. Weiner said.

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