Across the country, fourth and eighth graders are doing better in math according the 2003 scores released today by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Reading scores did not improve. The trends are very good in math, mixed in reading, says this analysis by John Stevens, who’s on the NAEP governing board.
Since the year 2000, the last time the NAEP mathematics assessment was given, the students at the bottom have made the greatest improvement. The largest gains have been achieved by fourth grade students in the lowest 10 percent or the lowest quarter of the test score distribution. The lower-scoring students in the 8th grade also have made substantial improvements.
In just three years, the proportion of black fourth graders reaching the Basic achievement level in mathematics rose from 36 to 54 percent nationwide. Among Hispanic students, whose number has increased enormously, the proportion reaching Basic in fourth grade math rose from 42 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2003.
The overall picture is encouraging because not only did the lower-scoring groups improve, but higher-scoring students made gains too, although at a somewhat slower rate. This means that the gaps in math have diminished in the past three years—between the highest tenth and lowest tenth and between different racial groups. Nobody has been “held back” so somebody else can improve.
In reading, unfortunately, the situation is less clear.
. . . It is important that the gains made in fourth grade reading from 1998 and 2000 to 2002 have been sustained. And here again the greatest improvements were made at the lower end of the test score distribution and among black and Hispanic students, whose performance historically has lagged.
Eighth grade reading scores have been up and down. There’s no evidence of sustained, significant progress.
Math learning is very dependent on what goes on in school, Stevens points out. Reading is much more related to students’ family experiences and cultural expectations. The rising number of test takers who aren’t fluent in English also depresses scores.
Education Trust, which focuses on achievement gaps between black, Latino and white students, finds hope in fourth grade reading: Non-Asian minority kids are narrowing the gap. In eighth grade math, achievement is up for all students; blacks and Latinos are doing better but aren’t catching up to whites and Asians.