WASHINGTON – Math skills among fourth- and eighth-graders are showing steady improvement and fourth-graders’ reading scores are also rising, according to a federal report released Tuesday. But white students are still scoring far higher than black and Hispanic students on a standardized assessment of academic proficiency.
Nationwide, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which bills itself as “the nation’s report card,” showed substantial gains in math and more modest gains in reading. A report accompanying the test results put math results at their highest level since 1992, when the test was first given. But the discrepancy in scores between white and black eighth-graders and white and Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders has changed little, the report found.
“Closing the achievement gap more quickly is the major challenge of the next three to five years, particularly in the large states with fast-growing minority student populations,” said David W. Gordon, superintendent of schools in California’s Sacramento County and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees administration of the assessments.
The math and reading assessments are given every two years to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students in each state. Massachusetts, again as in 2005, was first in all categories; Vermont and the Department of Defense school system were tied with Massachusetts for eighth-grade reading scores.
President Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings cited the higher overall scores as a reason to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, the administration’s education policy initiative that took effect in 2002. The program emphasizes annual testing to ensure that, by 2014, all students achieve a specific level of proficiency in math and reading, and Congress will vote later this year on reauthorizing the law.
“These scores confirm that No Child Left Behind is working and producing positive results for students across the country,” Bush said in a statement.
But Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said the report’s results are not a sign that No Child Left Behind is working.
“The gains we saw today are lumpy around the nation,” Fuller said, adding that from 2005 to 2007, only a few states showed improvement in math and reading. The scores in most fell or stayed the same, he said.
“We’re five years and about $90 billion into No Child, and we’re finally seeing some modest uptakes in students’ scores,” he said.
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