- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s students are getting better at math, but their reading performance is mixed, with slight progress in grade four and a slip backward in grade eight.

The 2005 scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test considered the best measure of how students in every state perform on core subjects.

The results, released yesterday, will be used widely as a way to measure whether the nation’s emphasis on math and reading, fueled by President Bush and Congress, is working.

“What we’ve got here is a pretty satisfactory elementary performance: better math and reading,” said Darvin Winick, chairman of the bipartisan panel that oversees the test.

The strongest results came in math, particularly in fourth grade, where scores were up for every major racial and ethnic group since the last test in 2003. Math scores increased slightly in eighth grade, where black and Hispanic students narrowed their gap with whites.

Mr. Bush, meeting with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at the White House yesterday, called the report encouraging.

“It shows there’s an achievement gap in America that is closing,” he said.

Overall in math, 36 percent of fourth-graders could handle challenging material, up from 32 percent in 2003. Among eighth-graders, 30 percent reached at least that “proficient” level, up from 29 percent.

Students in Maryland and Virginia did at least as well as the average, with 38 percent proficient in fourth grade and 30 percent in eighth grade in Maryland, and Virginia having 40 percent and 33 percent in the respective grades.

D.C. students were among the nation’s worst with 9 percent proficient for fourth grade and 7 percent for eighth grade.

But in reading, another skill vital for success in other subjects, national scores weren’t so solid.

The average reading score rose one point to 219 on a scale of 500 in fourth grade, a statistically significant increase. But only 31 percent of fourth-graders showed mastery of demanding material — the figure that typically matters the most. That performance was flat compared with 2003.

The same share of eighth-graders, 31 percent, were proficient in reading. That performance dropped compared with 2003.

Regionally, Virginia students did best in reading with 37 percent and 35 percent proficient in fourth and eighth grade respectively. Maryland students had scores of 32 percent and 30 percent, and the District fared the worst with 11 percent and 12 percent.

Mr. Winick said that taking a longer view, back to 2000, shows steady gains in math in both grades. Reading is up overall in grade four, too, he said, but “there’s no dancing around the flat eighth-grade performance in reading.”

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