Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the scores for its 2005 reading and math exams taken by fourth and eighth graders, and the results were decidedly mixed.

The average reading score for fourth graders increased by one point to 219 compared to 2003, while the average reading score for eighth graders declined by a point to 262. Reading scores have been essentially unchanged for both grades since 1992. The fourth-grade math score, which increased by nine points between 2000 (226) and 2003 (235), improved by three points in 2005 (238). After increasing by five points between 2000 (273) and 2003 (278), the average math score for eighth graders rose by one point in 2005 (279).

The NAEP tests in 2005 were the first national results since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law, which President Bush signed in 2002.

The NCLB requires states to give annual standardized reading and math exams to students in grades three through eight. The goal for 2014 is for all students to meet the proficient level measured by NAEP, which will serve as a control group.

The early evidence reveals that the nation has a very long way to go. Only 31 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students read at or above NAEP’s proficient level, compared to 29 percent in each grade in 1992. There has been greater improvement in math since 1990. The percentage of fourth-graders achieving the proficient level has increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2005, while proficiency among eighth-graders has increased from 15 percent to 30 percent over the same period. Note, however, that as students move from the fourth grade to the eighth grade, a significantly smaller percentage of them perform at the proficient level.

Another major goal of the NCLB law is to eliminate the achievement gap between white students and minorities. Measured by the percentage of students performing at or above proficient, the fourth-grade reading achievement gap between whites and blacks did not change between 2003 and 2005. The eighth-grade reading achievement gap declined by 1 percentage point.

The House-passed version of the appropriations bill supports a merit-pay project for teachers, which would reward them for measurable success in their classrooms. Giving teachers greater incentive to bridge the achievement gap and raise proficiency levels as mandated by the NCLB is but one for school districts with disappointing scores.

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