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Analysis Finds Little Change in NAEP Performance

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Although students in the Southeastern region of the United States appear to have made some of the greatest academic strides over the long term, the overall picture of student performance in the nation is one of some early gains followed by a recent stabilization, a new U.S. Department of Education study reports.

The department's National Center for Education Statistics released the 292-page analysis of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress last week. The comprehensive report, "NAEP 1994 Trends in Academic Progress," expands on a summary the department released in October. ("NAEP Reports Modest Gains in Math and Science Scores," Oct. 16, 1996.)

While the main NAEP measures student performance with tests that reflect current national education objectives, the long-term NAEP study uses the same exams to chart trends over time.

About 30,000 students ages 9, 13, and 17 have taken the long-term tests in mathematics, science, and reading every two years for more than 20 years.

Writing tests have been given to students in grades 4, 8, and 11 since 1984.

The October summary showed that the average scores of 9- and 13-year-olds in math were significantly higher in 1994 than they were in 1973, the first year the test was given.

The same pattern holds true for the average science scores of 9- and 17-year-olds. From 1992 to 1994, however, those scores showed little change.

In addition, no group tested in 1994 showed significant improvement in reading or writing scores from 1984.

Early Gains

The report released last week includes further breakdowns by such factors as region, type of school, and parents' education background.

The data show that the 1994 average scores of 9- and 13-year-olds in the Southeast were significantly higher than they were in 1970--a claim that no other region could make.

The Southeast also was the only region to show major improvements in the math scores of 9th graders from 1992 to 1994, although 9th graders in all regions scored higher in 1994 than when the math test was first given.

"I think the results reflect an emphasis in the Southern states, dating back to the early 1980s, in basic skills that did help some of those students on the bottom rung," said Mark D. Musick, the president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the administration of NAEP.

The regional breakdowns also reflect a general trend that runs throughout the analysis.

Breakdowns by region, gender, and race or ethnicity show that groups that lagged behind in subjects tested for the first time tended to make significant gains through the early 1980s, but have seen their scores stabilize or decline somewhat since.

In math and reading, for instance, the students in the lowest quartile made significant headway from 1978 to 1986 but have shown little or no progress since 1990.

For More Information: A limited number of both the full "NAEP 1994 Trends in Academic Progress" study and the "Report in Brief" version are available for free from the National Library of Education, (800)424-1616, or (202) 219-1651 in Washington. Once the supply is depleted, the library will direct inquiries to the Government Printing Office. The "Report in Brief" is also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.ed.gov/NCES/naep/y25flk/lttintro.shtml.

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