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Southern Pupils' Test Scores Top U.S. Average

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The reading abilities of 11th graders in Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia are above the national average for their age group, according to data released by the Southern Regional Education Board last week.

The results, announced at an sreb conference in Austin, Tex., represent the first attempt by individual states to administer a test from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to a sample of their students in order to make national, regional, and state-by-state comparisons.

New York State and Wyoming also used the naep tests to assess the performance of students in their states for the first time this year.

The three Southern states tested a sample of 11th graders. New York State and Wyoming tested a sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 11.

Students in the two non-Southern states also performed above the national average for their age group.

The sreb presented its 13-page report, "Measuring Student Achievement: Comparable Test Results for Participating Southern States, the South, and the Nation," to a group of legislators from 15 states that it has invited to participate in a similar assessment of 11th graders' reading and writing abilities next year.

In presenting the results, sreb officials noted that state testing programs "almost by design" have made it impossible to compare student achievement from state to state.

"Of the many 'national tests,' no one is used by more than a few states in the nation," said Mark D. Musick, sreb's director of state services and information.

"Because different test forms are used at different grade levels at different times of the year to get scores reported in different ways, state comparisons for all practical purposes are impossible. The comparisons to 'national averages' on these tests are often to averages determined years ago and updated about once in every decade," said Mr. Musick.

The joint project between the Educational Testing Service, which administers naep, the sreb, and the three states proves that such national and state-by-state comparisons are "feasible," he said.

Varying Costs

To participate in the study, each of the three Southern states paid the ets some $25,000 to test a representative sample of more than 2,000 11th graders in 1983-84.

New York State tested approximately 17,000 students at a cost of $20,000. Wyoming tested some 3,800 students at a cost of $90,000, and spent another $10,000 on a testing advisory committee.

The differences in cost reflect variations in the ages and numbers of students sampled, the data collected, and the analyses conducted, according to Archie E. Lapointe, executive director of naep. Wyoming, for example, conducted a complete assessment, measuring students' writing abilities as well as their reading skills, and tested students in three different grades.

Local districts in Wyoming also had the option of "piggy backing" onto the state assessment by conducting districtwide assessments of similar student skills.

Unlike most states, Wyoming currently does not have a statewide testing program and is hoping to use naep for that purpose, according Lynn Simons, state superintendent of education.

Major Findings

Among the major findings from the five states:

Black 11th graders in all three Southern states were reading at or above the average level of their peers across the nation; the Virginia average was significantly above the national average.

Black students as a group scored significantly lower than white students in Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia. The differences were similar to the national gap between black and white test scores, with4black 11th graders reading at only a slightly higher level than white 7th graders.

Wyoming's 4th and 8th graders performed as well as their peers nationwide on the writing assessment, while 11th graders scored better than those nationwide.

In Virginia, a significantly larger percentage of students were reading at the "adept" or "advanced" level than in the nation as a whole. These are the levels required for understanding high-school textbooks and for synthesizing and learning relatively complicated information.

Students in all three Southern states answered correctly a significantly higher percentage of items having to do with literal and inferential comprehension and with study skills than did students across the country.

Pupils in New York State scored better than their peers nationwide on 85 percent of the multiple-choice exercises and worse on 15 percent.

Reading skills of children of working mothers in Wyoming were no different than those of students of nonworking mothers. They actually read slightly better, but the difference is not statistically significant, according to Ms. Simons.

Worthwhile Investment

Claude A. Sandy, director of testing for the Virginia Department of Education, said that the assessment was not "all that cheap," but that "it was probably worth it."

"We don't have any other testing program that we can conduct for $25,000," he said.

Thomas H. Fisher, director of student assessment in Florida, noted that the new sampling techniques developed by the ets, in particular, have enabled the three Southern states to get information about the full spectrum of 11th graders from a relatively small number of students much less expensively than was formerly possible.

Testing directors were particularly pleased that naep provided more up-to-date and representative national norms than the states have had in the past.

"The important thing about this whole project was not so much what the actual results were," said Joyce R. McLarty, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Ed-ucation, "but that it was possible for three states to drop their mutual defenses and, in essence, cooperate with one another to the point where we could make public test results."

Ms. McLarty said there was "a great deal of excitement" at the sreb conference about the test results and that "quite a number of states have told me they're thinking of participating next year."

Future Plans

All three Southern states indicated that they will participate in the sample test of 11th graders in 1986, and are particularly interested in the writing assessment that will be given at that time.

New York State Commissioner of Education Gordon Ambach said his state will test 4th, 8th, and 11th graders this school year in the areas of computer competence, mathematics, reading, and science, and, in the 11th grade only, United States history and Western literature.

The Wyoming legislature has already approved funding for the state to test students in all three grades in computer science, math, reading, and science in 1986. The department of education has requested funding to participate in the 1988 naep assessment.

The Georgia legislature also has approved that state's participation in naep in 1986 as part of its education-reform act.

Massachusetts is planning to conduct a full-scale assessment of its own in 1986, using the naep test battery in mathematics, reading, and science. The assessment will test all students in grades 3, 7, and 11--some 180,000 youngsters--unlike the samples conducted in other states.

Except for school buildings with the smallest student populations, it should allow for comparisons on a school-by-school basis, as well as at the district, regional, state, and national levels, said Allan S. Hartman, director of the state education department's bureau of research and assessment.

The project, which will cost some $800,000, has been contracted out to a New-Hampshire based testing firm. This past summer, the Massachusetts legislature passed a school-reform act mandating a statewide curriculum assessment.

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