Emma Brown, Washington Post, November 7, 2013
The District’s fourth- and eighth-graders made significant gains on math and reading tests administered by the federal government this year, posting increases that were among the city’s largest in the history of the exam.
Average achievement among D.C. students continues to trail the nation, according to the results released Thursday from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam administered every two years since the early 1990s and considered the Nation’s Report Card. But the District’s scores showed the biggest improvements in the nation in three categories and the second-biggest gain in the fourth category. That includes a 7-point gain in fourth-grade math, while the national average improved by just 1 point.
Annual D.C. tests also showed large, across-the-board gains this year, but those gains were called into question after revelations about how the tests were scored. D.C. education leaders embraced the results on the national exam — generally regarded as cheat-proof — as evidence that the District’s closely watched school-improvement efforts are working.
The District’s performance has been improving for more than a decade, according to NAEP results, with steady growth in math and more fitful gains in reading.
Between 2011 and 2013, D.C. eighth-graders broke more than a decade of stagnation in reading and posted bigger score gains than in any other two-year period, climbing six points to 248 on a 500-point scale. Still, only 17 percent of D.C. eighth-graders scored well enough in reading to be considered proficient or above, compared to 36 percent nationwide.
In math, eighth graders posted a five-point gain, slightly slower growth than during the previous four years. The proportion of proficient students climbed from 17 percent to 19 percent.
By contrast, 65 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient on the city’s math exam, the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, demonstrating a gulf between expectations for proficiency on the two tests.
Fourth-grade students gained seven points in math, which translated into a proficiency rate that jumped from 22 percent to 28 percent. In reading, proficiency increased from 19 percent to 23 percent.
But the city’s achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts consistently have been the largest in the nation. The 2013 results show that those gaps narrowed slightly in some subjects and grade levels, but widened or remained the same in others.
The demographics of test-takers in the District has shifted during the past two decades, with the proportion of white and Hispanic students growing as the proportion of black students has fallen.