WASHINGTON – Maryland fourth- and eighth-graders made slow, steady progress this year in math and reading levels, but a slight decline in scores among older students may merit state attention, according to data released Wednesday in The Nation’s Report Card.
The federal report card is used as a national yardstick for student progress and a measurement of success for No Child Left Behind, the federal education reform passed in 2002 to bring students up to grade-level in reading and math. Under provisions in No Child Left Behind, all students are expected to score at or above proficient on the state assessments by the 2013-2014 school year.
The Nation’s Report Card is considered a good predictor of student progress, but, because it doesn’t break data down by school or system and because state standards vary, it is less useful, Maryland educators say, than state assessments. Those state assessments, which are hinged to federal funding, are administered in spring, with results expected in June.
State participation in report card testing is required under No Child Left Behind, but, unlike state assessments, there are no penalties for failing to meet certain standards.
“Nationally, this is a good measure, but from a state or local base it isn’t quite as practical,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.
The test puts students in four achievement levels – advanced, proficient, basic and below basic.
In Maryland, where results were similar to national data, reading scores increased from 62 to 65 percent of fourth-graders performing at or above basic levels, while math scores rose from 73 to 79 percent.
Eighth-grade scores showed slight declines. Reading scores dropped from 71 to 69 percent of students performing at or above basic, while math dipped from 67 to 66 percent.
“A one-point drop in reading in one grade, I don’t believe is enough to draw conclusions” about student reading proficiency, Reinhard said.
Since the test’s inception in 1990, average math scores for fourth-graders nationally have increased by 25 points, and 80 percent of them are performing at or above basic performance levels, the highest ever.
National reading scores were flat, with gains in both fourth- and eighth-grade levels of only 2 points over the 1992 test — the earliest available data — and no significant gains in basic level performance, which is at 64 percent this year for fourth-graders and 73 percent for eighth-graders.
“I’m distressed by what I see in reading,” said John Stevens, reporting and dissemination committee chairman for the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test. “It’s clear that the role of reading in American culture is on the decline.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the report card scores and said investments in No Child Left Behind should pay off by the 2014 deadline.
“I’m pleased, but not satisfied,” said Spellings. “We clearly have work to do with all kids at all levels … that’s what No Child Left Behind is designed to do.”
Scoring gaps between white and minority students remained steady with the disparity ranging from 20 to 34 points. The biggest gap was a 34-point difference between white and black eighth-graders in average math scores. The smallest was a 20-point gap between whites and Hispanics in fourth-grade math scores.
Yet, minority groups made bigger achievement gains than their white counterparts in some categories. For example, the average score for fourth-grade white students increased 26 points since 1990, while scores for black students increased 32 points.
“We expect that to continue,” said Reinhard. “We’re learning more and more about how different populations learn … I think every system is determined to reduce and ultimately eliminate the gap.”