Students Show Almost No Gains In Reading

Kavan Peterson, Stateline.org, Oct. 19

In the latest snapshot of how well American schoolchildren are learning, national test results showed a small gain in math proficiency in the past two years but nearly zero improvement in reading scores since 1992 despite more than a decade of focus on boosting student achievement.

The achievement gap between students of different races narrowed slightly, but about 70 percent of students nationwide still are scoring below grade level on math and reading tests, according to the latest scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests released Oct. 19.

Only about 30 percent of the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders scored high enough to be considered proficient in reading in 2005, nearly the same average as in any year since state NAEP scores were first reported in 1992. In math, the number of students scoring at grade level rose to 33 percent in 2005 from 30 percent in 2003, compared to only 17 percent in 1992.

Results from the state NAEP tests, also called “The Nation’s Report Card,” are reported by the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education and have been given to a national sample of fourth—and eighth-graders in reading and math every two years since 1992. The tests track student achievement by gender, race and income.

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No state had a higher average eighth-grade reading score in 2005 than in 2003, and seven states—Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Utah and West Virginia—had significantly lower scores.

The report showed a significant achievement gap between races still remains, with white and Asian students scoring higher than black and Hispanic pupils. The gap narrowed between each group between 2003 and 2005, but by less than 1 percent.

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“To me, this goes beyond disappointing,” said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance For Excellent Education, an advocacy group that promotes high school reforms. “It shows that we are failing to gain ground on the very conditions we need to reverse to improve our graduation rates and produce more students who are ready for college and the workforce.”

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States have reported across-the-board gains in student achievement on state NCLB exams since the law went into effect in 2002. But the latest NAEP test results likely will raise questions about the more glowing reports coming from state-developed standardized tests.

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The latest NAEP scores are consistent with other national standardized tests, such as the SAT, ACT and PSAT, which all have shown flat achievement rates in reading, said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks state implementation of NCLB.

“Despite what the (Bush) administration was claiming, this is an indication that No Child Left Behind may not have made much of a difference because these are the same results we saw before the law was in effect,” Jennings said.

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Traditionally, New England states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont score at the top. In contrast, states in the South such as Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and some Western states such as New Mexico, consistently score lower than the rest of the nation.

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