US school kids showing slight improvement in math

This was the first year that test administrators separated Asian students from a broader category that previously included Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students. In both reading and math, the average scores for Asians were higher than for other ethnic or racial groups. Nearly two-thirds of Asian fourth-graders and nearly 60 percent of Asian eighth-graders posted scores at or above proficient in math. About half of all Asian students in both grades scored at the proficient level or higher in reading.

Among the states:

—Hawaii was the only state in which fourth- and eighth-grade students improved from 2009 to 2011 in both reading and math.

—New Mexico, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia showed gains in math among both fourth- and eighth-graders over the same period.

—Maryland’s fourth- and eighth-graders showed improvements in reading.

—New York was the only state to score lower in math among fourth-graders in 2011, compared to 2009.

—Missouri was the only state where eighth-graders posted a lower score in math from two years earlier.

—Missouri and South Dakota had lower scores among fourth-graders in reading from 2009 to 2011.

Tom Loveless, an education expert and senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said any gains from 2009 to 2011 were minuscule and wouldn’t even be noticed “in the real world.” He said what counts is long-term growth. “Students have had a lot harder time making the gains in reading than they have in math,” Loveless said.

There was no clear reason why.

David Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, noted that when the board set achievement levels around 1990, the percentage of students at or above proficient was far higher in reading than math — the opposite of today.

Some speculate it’s simply because reading isn’t as much of a pastime with students as it was years ago.

Fuller said another theory is that reading is much more dependent on the richness of English being used at home, while math has more of a level playing field that’s almost like a foreign language to all students when they learn it.

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the schools in the city of Washington who now leads the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, said teachers have told her that the concepts that need to be taught in math are easier to define.

‘I’ve heard teachers say it’s easier to do that in math, and easier to sort of define here are the specific skills that the kids need help on … and go back and reteach those things,” Rhee said.

The math assessment was given this year to 209,000 fourth-graders and 175,200 eighth-graders. The reading test was given to 213,100 fourth-graders and 168,200 eighth-graders.

National Assessment of Educational Progress:

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