Math scores improve, but reading is flat

Math scores continue to improve modestly for fourth and eighth graders on the “nation’s report card,”and eighth graders inched up in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for 2011. However, flat reading scores for fourth graders are “deeply disappointing,” said David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which develops the exam.

Over 20 years, progress in math has outpaced reading, notes the Christian Science Monitor.

Math scores have risen steadily since 1990. The scores posted a small increase from 2009, the last time the test was given. For fourth-graders, the average math score was 241 on a 500-point scale – 28 points higher than in 1990 and 1 point higher than in 2009. Students at all percentiles except the lowest one increased.

In reading, the progress has been far slower and seems to have stalled out in fourth grade. Students at that level showed no improvement since 2009, and their scores were just four points higher than in 1992. (Eighth-grade scores were one point higher than in 2009 and five points higher than in 1992.)

In both math and reading, one third to 40 percent of students reach what NAEP considers proficiency.

Over 40 years, reading has improved significantly at the fourth-grade level, slightly in eighth grade and not at all in high school, notes Dana Goldstein, who has ideas on how to improve reading instruction.

The math gains show improvement is possible, writes Kevin Carey, who provides fourth-grade math achievement levels over the last 20 years:

In 1990, 50 percent of fourth graders were innumerate, scoring below “basic” in math, Carey writes. Today, that’s down to 18 percent.

The percent of students meeting the much higher “Proficient” standard has more than tripled, from 14 to 47 percent. Unfortunately, those gains seem to fade away in high school, where there has been very little progress over time. But that’s an argument for doing more to improve high schools, which have been, perhaps not coincidentally, largely removed from standards-and-accountability regimes.

States were far more likely to improve scores than to decline, he adds.

Some achievement gaps for minority and low-income students are narrowing, but not fast enough, says Education Trust, which breaks out state results.

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