Slight rise in reading scores is a concern
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Reading scores for fourth- and eighth- grade students held mostly steady last year, continuing a stubborn trend of minimal improvement across most racial, economic and geographic groups.
Scores in 2009 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federally funded achievement tests, rose in two states and the District of Columbia in grade four, and in nine states for grade eight. Overall, the fourth-grade average remained unchanged, while eighth graders rose one point.
The average score for both grades was only four points higher than it was in 1992.
"Today's results once again show that the achievement of American students isn't growing fast enough," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Like the NAEP 2009 math scores released last fall, the reading scores demonstrate that students aren't making the progress necessary to compete in the global economy."
Fourth-grade math scores flattened last year, and eighth-grade scores improved two points, both results considered stagnant compared with years of dramatic improvements; there has been a 27-point increase overall for fourth-grade students since 1990. By contrast, those leaps have never been seen in reading.
The results come eight years after enactment of the No Child Left Behind law championed by then-President George W. Bush, which set a goal for every student to read and do math at grade level by 2014. In 2009, 33 percent of fourth-grade and 32 percent of eighth-grade students scored at the proficient level in reading.
President Barack Obama is urging states to turn around low-performing schools with one of four intervention models, and is providing billions in funding through competitive grants aimed at spurring reform in education. He also is attempting to pass reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would dismantle No Child Left Behind, move away from punishing schools that don't meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress.
Fourth-grade students scored 221 on average out of a 500-point scale. Eighth-graders posted an average of 264.
While the overall scores remain relatively unchanged, researchers say there are important trends -- and progress -- taking place within subgroups. Tom Loveless, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, noted that the gap between the lowest and highest performers has consistently been shrinking from year to year.
Mr. Loveless suspects that pattern is tied to the enactment of more accountability systems.
The report also offers a snapshot of how students are doing across racial and ethnic lines as the face of the average United States classroom continues to change. White students made up 56 percent of fourth-grade test takers in 2009, compared with 73 percent in 1992, reflecting the growing diversity of schools in America. In the same time period, Hispanic students have risen from 7 percent to 20 percent.
Meanwhile, a significant achievement gap remains among several groups. Affluent, white and Asian/Pacific Islander students are scoring higher than low-income, black and Hispanic students. Each group has made gains, but at about the same rate, resulting in a continuing, sizable gap -- 26 points between white and black eighth-grade students, and 24 percent between white and Hispanic students -- somewhat smaller than it was in 1992.
First Published March 25, 2010 12:00 am