by Kimberly Hefling
WASHINGTON (AP)—New test scores show the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders are doing the best ever in math, but schools still have a long way to go to get everyone on grade level. In reading, eighth-graders showed some progress. Just a little more than one-third of the students were proficient or higher in reading. In math, 40 percent of the fourth-graders and 35 percent of the eighth-graders had reached that level.
The results Tuesday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are a stark reminder of just how far the nation’s school kids are from achieving the No Child Left Behind law’s goal that every child in America be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
“The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “It’s clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation’s children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.”
The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics administers the test.
On a 500-point scale, both fourth- and eighth-graders scored on average 1 point higher in math in 2011 than in 2009 and more than 20 points higher than in 1990, when students were first tested in math. In reading, the score for fourth-graders was unchanged from two years ago and four points higher than in 1992, when the test was first administered in reading. Eighth-graders in reading scored on average 1 point higher in 2011 compared with 2009 and 5 points higher than in 1992.
The results come as states clamor to develop proposals to obtain waivers around unpopular proficiency requirements in the No Child Left Behind law, which passed in 2002 and was heralded as a way to primarily help low-income and minority children. President Barack Obama in September said that since Congress had failed to rewrite the law, he was allowing states that met certain requirements to get around it. Forty states, in addition the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have said they intend to seek a waiver, according to the Education Department. Meanwhile, there has been some progress in both the House and Senate in rewriting the law, although it’s unclear whether Congress will act on it this year.
Historically, a large achievement gap has existed between the average scores of White students compared with Black and Hispanic students, with White students scoring higher.
There were no noticeable changes in the gap between White and Black students from 2009 to 2011. New test results, for example, show a 25-point gap between White and Black fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and fourth-graders in math.
In both math and reading, however, Hispanic students in eighth grade made some strides to narrow the gap with White students from 2009 and 2011. In reading, for example, the 26-point gap in 1992 and 24-point gap in 2009 was reduced to 22 points in 2011.
This was the first year that test administrators separated Asian students from a broader category that previously included Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students. In both reading and math, the average scores for Asians were higher than other racial groups. Nearly two-thirds of Asian fourth-graders and nearly 60 percent of Asian eighth-graders posted scores at or above proficient in math. About half of all Asian students in both grades scored at the proficient level or higher in reading.
Among the states, Hawaii stood out as the only state to show improvements from 2009 to 2011 in both reading and math among both fourth- and eighth-graders. During the same period, New Mexico, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia showed gains in math among both fourth- and eighth-graders, and Maryland’s fourth- and eighth-graders each showed improvements in reading.
New York was the only state to score lower in math among fourth-graders from 2009 to 2011. Missouri was the only state with eighth-graders posting a lower score in math from two years earlier. The math assessment was given this year to 209,000 fourth-graders and 175,200 eighth-graders. The reading test was given to 213,100 fourth-graders and 168,200 eighth-graders.