NAEP Scores Rise Slightly in Math, Flat for 4th Grade Reading

By Erik W. Robelen — November 01, 2011 1 min read
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A new set of test data from “the nation’s report card” has just been released. For the full EdWeek treatment, check out this story. The quick version is that math scores inched up by 1 point (on a 0-to-500 scale) compared with 2009, while reading was once again flat at the 4th grade and rose 1 point at 8th grade.

You can expect lots of analysis, and probably a healthy dose of handwringing today from various analysts and advocates. It is worth keeping in mind that NAEP is probably most valuable in gauging changes in achievement over longer periods of time, rather than simply comparing 2011 with 2009. From this larger, historical perspective, the story seems to be one of robust gains in math and small ones in reading.

For example, the national average has climbed 21 points in grade 4 and 16 points in grade 8 for math since 1992. By contrast, in reading the gains were just 4 points at grade 4 and 5 points at grade 8. (Also, I used 1992 above for an apples-to-apples comparison, but the math NAEP was first administered in 1990, and if you count that, the growth has been 28 points at 4th grade and 21 points at 8th grade.)

Despite the significant progress in math, David Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, expressed concern that recent improvements in math have failed to keep pace with earlier gains.

“Over the past eight years, progress has slowed, particularly at grade 4 where it had been very rapid for more than a decade,” he said. “The percentage of students ‘below basic’ has been reduced substantially, but it remains far too high—particularly at 8th grade for blacks and Hispanics.”

I just received a statement from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the results. Here’s an excerpt:

“The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism. While student achievement is up since 2009 in both grades in mathematics and in 8th grade reading, it’s clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation’s children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. After significant NAEP gains in the 1990s, particularly in mathematics, the 2011 results continue a pattern of modest progress.”

Anyway, you’ll find far more analysis in the EdWeek story. And if you want to see the detailed results for yourself, here are links to the full report in math and reading.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.