Friday, July 15, 2005

Minority gap shrinks
in testing of students

WASHINGTON » America's elementary school students made solid gains in both reading and mathematics in the first years of this decade, while middle school students made less progress and older teenagers hardly any, according to federal test results released yesterday.

The results, considered the best measure of the nation's long-term education trends, show that 9-year-old minority students made the most gains. In particular, young black students significantly narrowed the longtime gap between their math and reading scores and those of higher-achieving white students, who also made strong gains.

Older minority teenagers, however, scored about as far behind whites as in previous decades, and scores for all groups pointed to a deepening crisis in the nation's high schools.

The math and reading test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Long-Term Trends, has been given to a representative national sample of students ages 9, 13 and 17 every few years since the early 1970s. The results were from a test given to 28,000 public and private school students in all 50 states during fall 2003 and spring 2004.

Students in 13 of Hawaii's public and public charter schools participated in the test, said Robert Hillier, the Hawaii administrator for NAEP.

However, there is no state-by-state or school-by-school breakdown, he said.

In mid-October, NAEP will release the 2005 results of its main assessments in math and reading, which will include state-level results.

In the Long-Term Trends assessment, 9-year-old students nationwide, on average, earned the highest scores in three decades, in both reading and math.

In the reading test, the average score of 9-year-old black students increased by 14 points on a 500-point scale, from 186 in 1999 to 200 in 2004. Reading scores of 9-year-old white students rose by 5 points, from 221 in 1999 to 226 in 2004. As a result the "achievement gap" between black and white 9-year-old students narrowed to 26 from 35 points in those five years. The gap was 44 points in 1971.

Overall, the 30-year trend in reading for 9-year-old students has been one of steady, modest increases, with the sharpest gains in the last five years.

Bush administration officials credited the president's signature education law, No Child Left Behind, with raising the scores. But groups that have criticized the law, including both national teacher unions, noted that it had only been in effect a year or so when the test was administered. They said that state efforts to increase testing, bolster teacher training and reduce class sizes, as well as an increase in early childhood and kindergarten programs, should also be credited.

President Bush said yesterday the results showed that the federal law's emphasis on standardized testing should be extended to the upper grades.

"No Child Left Behind is making a difference in the elementary and middle schools, and I believe we need to expand this process to our high schools," he said.

Darvin Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test, agreed that there was "considerable good news to report."

But Winick urged caution in attributing the gains narrowly to the federal law. Increased testing and reporting of student data and other reform efforts that got under way in many states during the Clinton administration probably also contributed, he said.

No Child Left Behind, which requires states to test selected grades in English and math every year, and to break out scores of minority students from student averages, first took effect in fall 2002.

The New York Times and Star-Bulletin reporter Dan Martin contributed to this report

National Assessment of Educational Progress
State Department of Education
State DOE: No Child Left Behind
U.S. DOE: No Child Left Behind

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