Student Test Scores Remain Mixed
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
States are doing a better job boosting students' reading and math scores, but still have a ways to go to close the gap between test scores of white and minority students, according to a new federal report released Nov. 13.
The Nation's Report Card 2003 from the U.S. Department of Education serves as a benchmark for how states are doing in improving student test scores. The latest results show that students in the fourth and eighth grades appear to be doing better in math, but their reading scores show little change.
The 2003 report is the first time that students in all 50 states participated in the tests, called the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Prior to that federal education law, it was up to the states to decide whether to administer the NAEP test.
"These results show that the education revolution that No Child Left Behind promised has begun," U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a prepared statement. "We are slowly picking up steam and the reforms are starting to work," he said.
John H. Stevens, member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test, called the latest results "encouraging news" but said "the gaps are still very wide" when comparing results by race. Among eighth-graders, for example, about 40 percent of whites and Asians read at or above the "proficient" level compared to 13 percent of black students and 15 percent of Hispanics.
Southern states have seen some of the largest gain in math scores in the last decade, notably North and South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi. Texas and New York also saw better math scores for their eighth-graders.
In reading, fourth-graders in Delaware, Florida, North Carolina and Maryland had the biggest gains.
Despite gains, however, most of the Southern states are still below the national average in both reading and math.
The growing numbers of students who don't speak English well is affecting the overall reading scores. Some 5 percent of the eighth-graders who took the reading test were dubbed "limited-English proficient," more than double the 2 percent figure of 1998.
In addition to offering the NAEP test, the new federal education law requires that states also test students every year in grades three through eight and once during high school in math and reading/language arts by 2005. Education experts will be able to look at how well students did on NAEP, compared to how well they did on their state's own tests.
Taken together, the NAEP score and states' own assessments will provide educators and policy makers with a better idea of the progress that states are making to ensure all students are proficient in math and English by 2013, as required by No Child Left Behind.
NAEP is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, an independent agency housed within the U.S. Department of Education. A bipartisan governing board determines the content and standards of the test.