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Math and reading scores: Massachusetts excels, West Virginia lags

For the first time, the “Nation’s Report Card” includes rich state-level data on the math and reading skills of America’s 12th-graders. Eleven states volunteered to have their results itemized in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), allowing for comparisons across state lines and over time. Beyond the overall test scores, the state results also look at everything from achievement gaps between racial groups to the amount of reading the students do on a daily basis.

The data come at a time when the majority of states are trying to move toward a common set of reading and math standards, aimed at better ensuring that students graduate from high school with the skills they need for higher education or job training.

“The achievement of 12th-graders is an indicator of our nation’s potential human capital,” said former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, chairman of a commission to improve NAEP as an indicator of college readiness, at an event releasing the report. “These states want to have a measure of the output of the K-12 system that is … credible, trustworthy, and rigorous.”

Nationally, 38 percent of 12th-graders scored at or above the “proficient” level in reading and 26 percent in math – an indication of “competency over challenging subject matter,” according to the latest report.

“Without these skills, many entering college students will have to take remedial courses during their freshman year and will face long odds in their pursuit of a college degree,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, in a press statement.

Reading scores for 12th-graders have ticked up slightly since 2005, but have dipped when compared with 1992. The reading-score gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts haven’t budged.

In math, high school seniors have also made modest gains since 2005, the only test to which the new data can be compared.

It’s encouraging that more students are taking higher-level math classes, but the racial gaps at those higher levels are even more pronounced, notes Kathi King, a math teacher in Maine and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP.

In five of the 11 volunteer states, high school seniors bested the national average in both reading and math: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.

The other states that participated are Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

West Virginia showed the lowest overall scores for math and reading among the 11 states. But its African-American students achieved the highest reading scores, and the state has virtually no reading gap between black and white students.

The state also has the highest percentage of 12th-graders who read five pages or less per day – one factor that officials hope to improve as part of a comprehensive transformation of curriculum and teacher development, said state superintendent Steven Paine during the release event. The data, he said, are “a call to action to engage parents to promote reading at a very early age.”

In Arkansas, education officials are not surprised that higher NAEP scores are associated with a higher level of parents’ education and students’ aspirations for college. Both the governor and education officials are “working hard to create a culture … of continuing education after high school,” says Julie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education.

This includes a new core curriculum that requires students to take math beyond Algebra II, including calculus or statistics – another factor associated with higher NAEP scores. Arkansas’s 12th-graders scored below the national NAEP average in both reading and math.

“The first step in solving the problem [of low high school achievement] is looking at it,… and for too long we’ve only had national 12th-grade numbers,” says Amy Wilkins, a vice president of the Education Trust in Washington, which works to close achievement and opportunity gaps.

She adds, “Being able to see that Massachusetts is out front hopefully will mean some states will start turning to Massachusetts and saying, ‘How are you getting those results?’… And some will look at Connecticut and say, ‘Your gap [between racial groups] is outrageous.’ ”

The national data are based on a representative sample of about 50,000 students from more than 1,600 public and private schools. The state data are based only on public schools.

Beth Hawkins will return on Monday. Learning Curve occasionally provides education articles from one of our media partners.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by David Peterson on 11/24/2010 - 11:23 am.

    Is this data broken by income level. I know a common way Minnesota students are broken by poverty level would be if they are enrolled in the free lunch program. Working with this type of achievement data along racial lines, I have found that achievement gap directly correlates to poverty level. If you further break the racial data by poverty level, you will see a near mirror of non-minority students. Which goes to show income level is much more of an indicator of student success as opposed to strictly racial/social factors.

  2. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/26/2010 - 12:27 am.

    The gap between groups in Conneticut is “outrageous”? This is a rediculous statement. The gap between the social, economic and parental education of various racial groups in Conneticut should be characterized as the grand canyon. Perhaps in no other state is there a greater dsiparity between the backgrounds of rich white students from highly educated families and poor minority students from uneducated parents. Reading and math achievments are not the result of effective or unsuccessful teaching methods! It is the result of the education and income level attained by students’ parents. Stop this charade that it can be bridged by a miracle education strategy starting at five. It’s way too late by then. The best way to bridge this gap is to raise the minimum wage, tax the heck out of the rich, give health care to poor people and ramp up early childhood educational opportunities.

  3. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/26/2010 - 07:17 pm.

    I work at a 90% poverty public high school, and I believe strongly you will see our school in the news for incredible gains within two years because of our reforms. Not miracles, but slow, arduous, and non-flashy hard work.

    As for those other “reformers” of the free market variety. Please take a look at the Bill Gates funded State Teacher’s Policy Handbook. The handbook supposedly grades states on who has the best teacher policies. The modern day reformers want states to follow their policies. Hold their ideal up to the NAEP.

    You will see one clear, and common thread.
    According to the reformers, the best states have three things in common:

    2) Lowest compensation, benefits, and respect for teachers possible.
    3) The lowest student outcomes.

    Take a look at the link. The gold states are their highest performing. Then look at those state’s NAEP scores.


    Thanks so much,

  4. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/26/2010 - 07:57 pm.

    Speaking of Connecticut and what works. There is a 100% poverty 95% minority High School in Connecticut that is using the same philosophy we are implementing. Their gains in one year are fantastic. It’s the PLC model popularized by the DuFour’s and backed with research by Marzanno and a Response to Intervention (RTI) focus.

    These are the reforms that should be supported. They take the teachers out of their isolated classroom kingdoms they have been in for a century.

    Thanks so much for all you do to further the educational dialogue in a positive way.

  5. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/26/2010 - 07:58 pm.

    Whoops, here is that link to the Connecticut school.


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