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National reading scores up since 1992, relatively flat since 2007 test

By John Published: March 24, 2010

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (often called the Nation's Report Card) has released findings on 4th and 8th grade reading that show gains since 1992 in 4th grade reading, but only slight gains for 8th grade reading since 2007, the last time the test was given. Last October, the NAEP showed similar results for math.  New York Times story, however, looks at the longer trend, noting that since 1990, math scores have shown greater improvement than reading scores.  See AP story here. Ohio Department of Education weighs in here with press release.

The Ohio snapshot of 4th grade reading scores has some interesting data:

  • Although the average score is higher than in 1992, the gap between the highest scoring and lowest scoring hasn't significantly changed since 1992.

  • The percentage of students who peformed at or above the proficient mark was 36 percent, which was the same as 2007, but  higher than the 27 percent who passed in 1992.

  • Lo-income students scored on average 27 points lower than those from wealthier families.  Black students scored on average 28 points lower than white students. Those peformance gaps have not changed since 1992.

A couple of quick notes about those findings.  For poor and black students to close the performance gap, they have to outperform higher-income and white students to make up the lost ground.  What gets lost in that analysis is that all groups have improved their scores since 1992 (from 217 to 225 out of a total point range of 0 to 500). The gap remains because white students and higher income students also did better.

 Also, you'll sometimes hear people comparing what NAEP considers to be proficient with the definitions of proficiency each state using, with the implication that the states set a lower bar. But I don't think NAEP is a gold standard because it has found the optimum definition of proficiency. Whether some think the NAEP bar is too high or too low is irrelevant.  As long as it's consistent from state to state and year to year, it's useful for tracking progress. Here's my description of the tests from a story I wrote last October about math scores:

The series of federally funded tests are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often referred to as ''The Nation's Report Card.'' The tests are given periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography and U.S. history.

Educators and policy-makers consider the tests valuable because, unlike individual state achievement tests, they're the same throughout the country and generally the same over time, allowing apples-to-apples comparisons and analysis of trends.

The tests are given to students and schools selected through demographic sampling. Students take only portions of the test, which means that results are not provided for individual students, schools or most districts.



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