- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The District’s fourth-graders and eighth-graders showed slight improvements but still scored the lowest in the country on federal standardized math and reading tests, according to the 2007 Nation’s Report Card released yesterday.

About two-thirds of the District’s eighth-graders performed below basic levels in math and more than half could not read at a basic level, according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests given last winter.

Nationally, 30 percent of eighth-grade students were below basic in math and 27 percent were below basic in reading. “Basic,” defined by officials as “partial mastery” of fundamental skills, was the lowest of three benchmarks that also included “proficient” and “advanced.”

Among D.C. fourth-graders, 61 percent were below basic in reading and 51 percent were below basic in math. Nationally, 44 percent of fourth-graders were below basic in reading and 19 percent were below basic in math.

D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee yesterday said the results were “not terribly different from prior years” and were expected, based on students’ poor scores this year on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test.

“We are — compared to most of the other large urban districts — very much not competitive,” said Mrs. Rhee, who took over the school system in June. “And frankly, it’s going to take awhile for us to right the system.”

Virginia and Maryland students scored above the national average on the tests, with Virginia’s fourth-grade math scores ranking fifth in the country. Nearly nine of 10, or 87percent, of fourth-graders scored at or above basic levels in math. In reading, 74 percent scored at or above the basic level.

Among Virginia’s eighth-graders, 77 percent achieved basic levels or higher in math and 79 percent scored at or above basic levels in reading.

Eighty percent of Maryland fourth-graders scored at or above basic levels in math and 69 percent scored at or above basic in reading. Among eighth-graders, 76 performed at or above basic in reading and 74 percent scored at or above basic in math.

The NAEP results come despite a Census Bureau report released in May showing the District was near the top in the country in school spending.

The District spent an average of $12,979 per student on classroom costs such as teacher salaries and textbooks in fiscal 2005, according to the report. Maryland ranked 13th, at $9,815 spent per student. Virginia was 21st, with $8,891 spent per student. The national per pupil average was $8,701, the report said.

Only New York and New Jersey spent more than the District — $14,119 and $13,800 per student, respectively — when ranked by state.

The test results released yesterday come from a national sample consisting of about 700,000 students who took the annual national assessment exam.

The results arrived as Congress struggles to craft legislation to renew the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which aims to have students reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. Lawmakers and education groups debate whether the law — which President Bush touts as one of his signature domestic accomplishments — has been effective over the past five years.

“To those who would suggest that No Child Left Behind is not working, our nation”s fourth- and eighth-graders and their teachers just proved the naysayers wrong,” said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Officials with the independent National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP, said it’s not that clear.

“It’s difficult to be definitive about that,” said board Chairman Darvin Winnick, when asked how much NCLB affected the results. In general, he said, the increased focus on education reform and accountability at the state and federal levels over recent years “has had a very positive effect.”

The test results showed average national math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders has risen steadily since 1990. This year, in fourth grade, the average score was 240 on a scale of 500, up from 238 in 2005 and 213 in 1990. For eighth grade, the average score was 281, up from 279 in 2005 and 263 in 1990.

n Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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