WASHINGTON—Elementary-students’ performance in reading and math is improving and gaps in racial and economic achievement are closing in many states, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Education Trust, a nonprofit education-advocacy group.
Nonetheless, the rate of improvement is too slow to reach state proficiency standards by 2014, the deadline set by the No Child Left Behind Act, the group said.
The data, collected from 24 states over three years, focus on students in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Washington was not one of the 24 states surveyed. Only states that hadn’t changed their tests since 2002 were included, so that researchers would have valid year-to-year comparisons.
Twenty-three of the 24 states showed student improvement in math, and 15 showed an increase in reading and English skills.
Ross Wiener, the policy director at the trust, attributed the success to the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, which not only has increased school accountability but also has allowed schools to collect more data and information about student performance.
Wiener, whose group is an offshoot of the American Association for Higher Education, which is intended to promote better primary schooling, also praised elementary-school teachers for increasing their focus on teaching basic skills.
“Credit for the progress we see in this report belong to the educators at all levels from the education department to the individual teacher,” Wiener said. “They are giving off images of the great capacity there is for progress in public education and providing examples for other states to do the same.”
Florida scored the greatest improvements: 15 percentage points in reading and 13 in math, compared with 2002. Other high performers included North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Achievement in reading increased in Delaware and North Carolina by 7 and 6 percentage points, respectively. In math, achievement jumped 8 points in California and 9 points in Pennsylvania.
Reading-achievement gaps between white and African-American students narrowed in 16 of the states surveyed, and between non-Hispanic white and Latino students in 14 states.
In math, these gaps narrowed in 17 states between whites and African Americans and in 16 states for non-Hispanic whites and Latinos.
Daria Hall, a policy analyst at the Education Trust, cautioned that some data that reflect the closure of achievement gaps could be deceptive.
“In Arizona, the Latino-white reading gap narrowed from 30 to 29 percentage points, but this gap-narrowing occurred while achievement of both Latino and white students went down,” she said. “This is not the kind of gap closing we’re looking for here.”