State math, reading scores up slightly

Superintendent says cuts to education will keep numbers flat

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SEATTLE — Washington student scores on national math and reading tests are up slightly compared to results from two years ago and students from the Evergreen State continue to score just above the national average on the only academic tests taken nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Education released data Tuesday showing fewer than 10 states finished statistically higher than Washington in both grades on the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the nation’s report card.

In math, Washington students finished with an average score of 243 in fourth grade and 288 in eighth grade. The national average was 240 for fourth grade and 283 in eighth grade.

In reading, Washington students finished with an average score of 221 in the fourth grade and 268 in eighth grade. The national average was 220 for fourth grade and 264 in the eighth grade.

This change in scores from 2009, which was the last time the reading and math tests were given nationwide, was statistically insignificant.

“Just like with our state exams, we are seeing the trend of our test results flattening out,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. “With the continued cuts to education, we don’t expect that trend to change.”

Dorn commended Washington’s students and teachers for continuing to do well despite diminishing resources.

Education reform advocates are not as impressed by the scores as Dorn, said Liv Finne, director of the education program at Washington Policy Center.

“It really gets me when Superintendent Dorn says students are doing well on the NAEP because our scores are a few points above the national average,” she said.

Finne points out that the national average is low, with only about a third of students rated proficient or better. Also, Washington has more white and Asian students as a percentage of the population than other states, so demographics boost the state’s scores.

Nationwide, the report card on math and reading shows fourth- and eighth-graders scoring their best ever in math and eighth graders making some progress in reading. But the results released Tuesday are a stark reminder of just how far the nation’s schoolkids are from achieving the No Child Left Behind law’s goal that every child in America be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

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 figures were from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “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.”

There were few noticeable changes in the achievement gap between white and black students from 2009. While the gap is smaller than in the early 1990s, the new test results reflect a 25-point difference between white and black fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and fourth-graders in math.

However, Hispanic students in eighth grade made some small strides to narrow the gap with white students in both math and reading. In reading, the gap was 22 points in 2011 compared to 26 in 1992 and 24 in 2009.

The reading test asked students to read passages and recall details or interpret them. In math, students were asked to answer questions about topics such as geometry, algebra and number properties and measurement.

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 one 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 that test was first administered. Eighth-graders in reading scored on average one point higher in 2011 than in 2009 and five points higher than in 1992.

State officials remain most concerned about achievement levels in early grades. Dorn expressed concern about state support for early learning, including money for keeping class sizes small in grades K-4 and for all-day kindergarten.

“We need to ensure all students receive the instruction they need and deserve in early grades to succeed throughout their school career,” Dorn said.

According to the national test scores, Washington has made little or no progress in closing the achievement gap between kids of different races.

The biggest gaps are in grade 8 math, where black students had an average score that was 29 points lower than white students. The gap for Hispanic students was 25 points and for low-income students, it was 26 points.

In fourth grade math, black students had an average score that was 22 points lower than white students. The gap for Hispanic students was 23 points and for low income students, it was 24 points.

The performance gaps have not changed significantly since the mid- to late-1990s.