The nation's fourth-graders have improved their reading skills since 1998, but test scores for eighth-graders remained flat and 12th-graders declined over that same period, according to a new report released June 19.
The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2002 from the federal government serves as benchmark for how well states are improving their students' reading.
The scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) come at time when states are putting together their own testing programs, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Taken together, the NAEP score and states' own assessments will provide educators and policy makers with a better idea of the progress that states are making to ensure all students are proficient in math and English by 2013, as required by No Child Left Behind.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called the NAEP report "cause for both celebration and concern." In a prepared statement, Paige said he was concerned that not a lot had changed since 1992, the first year NAEP was given. "At the national level, fourth-graders are scoring at about the same level, eighth-graders are scoring a bit higher and 12th-graders have gone south," the secretary said.
Since 1998, 16 states (see side bar) showed improvement in reading achievement at grade 4 and only one (Oklahoma) declined. Of those states that made gains, several are in the South. "That is no fluke," said Mark D. Musick, president of the Southern Regional Education Board and a member of the NAEP governing board. "These states are making major efforts to improve reading in the early grades," he said in a prepared statement.
Eight states (see side bar) showed gains in reading scores at grade 8 and five declined (Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Rhode Island). There is no state-by-state NAEP testing at grade 12.
Musick said the 12th grade scores and the "large persisting gaps" in scores between white, black and Hispanic students are "bad news." The gaps in average scores of black and Hispanic fourth-, eighth- and 12th- graders are about the same as they were 10 years ago -- about 25-30 points lower than scores for whites -- Musick said at a Washington. D.C., press conference where the report was released.
"It's a mixed bag," said Joseph Garcia, director of public leadership for Achieve, an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit organization that helps states raise academic standards. While the news on the fourth- and eighth-grade fronts are positive, the declines in 12th-grade scores are "pretty troubling," he told Stateline.org.
David Griffith of the National Association of State Boards of Education, a non-profit that represents state and territorial boards of education, said he was very encouraged by the results. "I think that the fruits of federal efforts in emphasizing reading, begun under the Clinton administration's `America Reads' program and now President Bush's `Reading First' program are paying dividends in the encouraging fourth-grade scores, especially compared to 1998 scores, " he told Stateline.org.
But it's still a little too early to tie this year's NAEP results directly with the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Kathy Christie, vice president for knowledge management with the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization involving key leaders from all levels of the education system.
Future NAEP reports will show a closer tie with No Child Left Behind, she said. Prior to that federal education law, it was up to the states to decide whether to administer the NAEP test. Now, under No Child Left Behind, states will have to give the test in the fourth- and eighth-grades every two years. States also have to test students every year in grades 3-8 and once during high school in math and reading/language arts under the new education law. Education experts will be able to look at how well students did on NAEP, compared to how well they did on their state's own tests.
The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union, said the NAEP results "show the daunting task for states that must meet No Child Left Behind requirements at a time when resources are drying up and leave them unable to reduce class sizes, attract and keep good teachers or make other improvements that would in fact raise student achievement in all subjects."
NAEP is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, an independent agency housed within the U.S. Department of Education. A bipartisan governing board determines the content and standards of the test.