NEAP scores increase: Duncan says more improvement needed

Students in nearly half of all states improved their reading and/or math scores on last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The test was administered to more than 200,000 4th graders and 170,000 8th graders. The results, released earlier this week, show an improvement in scores since 2009 in both 4th and 8th grade math and in 8th grade reading. Fourth grade reading scores showed no significant change.

Only one state, Hawaii, improved in both subjects at both grades. Students’ math scores also improved at both grades in the District of Columbia, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Reading scores were higher in both grades in Maryland. Math scores for 4th graders dropped, however, in New York and for 8th graders in Missouri. Missouri and South Dakota were the only states with a drop in reading scores among 4th graders.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement between states, large urban districts, and various student demographic groups.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed concern, despite the overall NAEP improvement. “The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism,” Duncan said in a news release. “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.”

So is the glass half-full or half-empty? Clearly slow but steady progress has been made in NAEP scores since the early 1990s. Nearly 20 years ago, half of all 4th graders failed to score at even a 'basic' level on their math tests. Now, nearly one in five still falls below the basic-level benchmark - which may help explain why our education leaders are not popping open the champagne despite overall improvement in the test scores.