'Nation's Report Card' shows some progess in reading, math

Herald Washington BureauNovember 7, 2013 

It’s report card day for the nation’s schools.

And this year for the first time there’s also a user-friendly interactive graphic that makes it easy to look up how schools are doing nationally and by states. The site also includes a video that explains how to use the website tools.

The National Report Card (formally, the National Assessment of Education Progress) is the most comprehensive look over time at what students in 4th and 8th grade know and can do. The Department of Education releases it every two years.

Here are some highlights, with much more information in the report and graphic.

The average mathematics scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in 2013 were 1 point higher than in 2011 (on a scale of 0 to 500 points).

The average reading score for eighth-graders was 2 points higher in 2013 than in 2011, but the score for fourth-graders did not change significantly from 2011.

Jack Buckley, a commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters in a conference call that there isn’t often a big jump.

“Every two years or so the gains tend to be small, but over the long run they stack up,” he said.

The interactive graphic shows the gains since the testing data started in 1990.

The results also give a snapshot of proficiency at math and reading. The tests measure whether students are basic (partial mastery of skills), proficient (solid academic work) or advanced.

For all students, in public and private schools nationwide, 42 percent of 4th graders and 35 percent of 8th graders are proficient or above in math.

In reading, the results show that nationwide 35 percent of 4th graders and 36 percent of 8th graders are proficient or more advanced. Those are slight improvements over 2011.

Data can also be broken out by state. The state numbers are only given for public school students. Some of the national data is for both private and public schools.

The results also are broken down for racial or ethnic groups. White-black and white-Hispanic score gaps didn’t change significantly from 2011 to 2013. Also, the gap in scores between low-income students and others with higher family incomes has remained little changed over a decade.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a briefing that schools must speed up progress and narrow the achievement gaps.

The best way to close those long-time gaps is to improve access to preschool, especially for disadvantaged children, Duncan said. It’s not unusual now for some of these children to start kindergarten a year and a half or more behind, he said. “Why do we want to stay in the catch-up business?”

Duncan said Washington, D.C., Tennessee and Hawaii stand out as the places with a lot of progress on test scores. He said the reasons included more early education, higher standards and a focus on teacher effectiveness.

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