The National Assessment Governing Board presented the 2011 results of The Nation’s Report Card: Mathematics and Reading this morning, November 1, for grades 4 and 8. Presenting the results was Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.
Although improvements were modest since 2009, the good news was that there were improvements. Fourth graders’ scores in mathematics were higher in every percentile except the top tenth. Except for Asians, non-whites continued to score well below whites with students of Asian backgrounds performing at the highest levels on 4th grade mathematics. Even in the area of demographic differences, there was some good news; the difference between the scores of whites and blacks and whites and Hispanics declined by a point, having gone from a difference of 27 points in 2000 to a difference of 23 points in 2003 and 20 points in 2011. Finally students in 9 states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, and the District of Columbia, scored higher in 2011 with only the State of New York’s scores’ declining.
For 8th graders, scores were slightly higher – a one point gain – in every percentile reported except for the top tenth percentile. Hispanics narrowed the gap with whites, having gone from a difference of 26 points in 2009 to a difference of 23 points in 2011. This is consistent with what I had reported earlier in the overall educational improvements among Hispanics in a blog, entitled, The Hispanic Face of Future College Students. Thirteen states showed improvements in eighth grade mathematics scores. Among others, they included New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Mississippi, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Looked at from another perspective, however, we still have a long way to go. Among eighth graders, 27% of students were still below basic in their mathematics scores, and among fourth graders, 18% were below basic. The really sad news from this preceding statement is the implication that the longer a child remains in school, the greater the likelihood that he or she will not meet even basic performance levels. The report points to the importance of readying students for algebra in the eighth grade if we are to expect to see the differences in performance between ethnic groups diminish and if we are to expect to see the overall performance of students increase with grade level. Whereas 36% of white students and 45% of Asian eighth graders were enrolled in algebra, only 24%, 28% and 33% of, respectively, American Indians, Blacks and Hispanics were enrolled in algebra at the eighth grade. Another note of concern in the presentation was the lack of improvement in scores for the top decile of fourth and eighth graders’ scores. This lack of improvement echoes the concerns about the gifted that I had mentioned in a blog, entitled, High Achieving Kids: What to Do?
The reasons for the improvements over the last decade have to be inferred, but the need for continued improvement is also evident. There is little reason for us to relax our focus on educational improvement, especially in light of the rapid advancement of non-U.S. students.