Southern Students Fare Well on History, Math Tests

By Robert Rothman — November 11, 1987 3 min read

A new assessment of 11th graders in eight Southern states has found that American history scores in seven of the states surpassed the national average, while mathematics scores in four states were at or above that level.

Scores for black students in the eight states exceeded the national average for black 11th graders, it found, but lagged far behind those of white students.

The study by the Southern Regional Education Board, which a national testing official said would help in “charting the course” for a planned state-by-state comparison of student achievement, examined performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in the two subjects.

Tempered ‘Good News’

Although the findings are “generally encouraging,” they “should not be taken lightly by state leaders,” cautions the sreb’s report on the assessment, released late last month.

“That many of the eight participating sreb states are at or significantly above a current and representative national average in U.S. history and mathematics achievement is good news,” states the report, “Measuring Student Achievement: Comparable Test Results for Participating sreb States and the Nation.”

“But two facts must temper this good news,” it continues. "[T]hese national averages reflect a less4than-extraordinary level of achievement, and average scores for black students in the sreb states and the nation trail significantly the scores for white students.”

The results are based on tests taken this year by about 16,000 students in 700 schools in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

All of the states except Louisiana exceeded the national average in history.

On the math test, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia met or exceeded the national average.

The national averages were drawn from similar naep tests taken by a representative sample of students nationwide last year.

The results of the history test were published in September by the education historian Diane Ravitch and Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr. in their book What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? The math results are expected to be released next month.

Model for Expanded NAEP

The sreb project represents only the third time that a group of states has collected data to allow cross-state comparisons of student achievement.

The two previous studies, also conducted by the Southern board, tested students in reading in 1985 and in reading and writing in 1986.

National officials involved in student assessment say the project offers them a blueprint as they seek to expand naep to provide state-by-state achievement data.

“The states involved in the sreb project are charting the course for state-by-state comparisons in the future,” said Wilmer S. Cody, the director of a group established by the Council of Chief State School Officers to plan for an expanded national assessment.

“This is the first tentative step,” Mr. Cody said. “The experience should prove useful as we proceed to develop more extensive” comparisons.”

The sreb project demonstrates how to design and administer an assessment across state lines, he added, as well as how to report results.

In addition to serving as a national model, the tests can help state officials evaluate their own instructional programs, according to Mark D. Musick, director of information services for the Southern board.

For example, he noted, several states, including Virginia and Tennessee, placed greater emphasis on writing after previous assessments showed that their students performed less well than those in other states.

Copies of the report are available for $5 each from the sreb, 592 10th Street, N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318-5790.

A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 1987 edition of Education Week as Southern Students Fare Well on History, Math Tests