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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2005

9-year-olds improve in reading, 'rithmetic

By Darlene Superville
Associated Press



National Assessment of Educational Progress:

WASHINGTON — The nation's 9-year-olds last year posted their best scores in reading and math in more than three decades. Older students didn't fare as well.

At the same time, achievement gaps between racial groups narrowed, according to results of the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress announced yesterday.

While individual state scores are not broken out from this nationwide long-term-trend sampling done every five years, Hawai'i public education officials were cautiously optimistic the increases mean Hawai'i scores also are improving.

"They caution us against doing parallels but I think we've seen a pattern of improvement in reading and math on the state NAEP," said Robert Hillier, NAEP coordinator for the Hawai'i Department of Education. "I'd guardedly say the improvement we're seeing nationally looks like we might be seeing it in Hawai'i, too."

The Hawai'i State Assessment results will be out by mid-August, said Hillier, and then by mid-October the comprehensive testing for the 2005 state NAEP will release reading and math scores for Hawai'i's public school students in fourth and eighth grades. The science scores will be released later.

For comparison, about 500 Hawai'i students participate in the national NAEP tests while around 9,000 are tested for the state comparisons released in mid-October. It's those later figures that provide a far better assessment of the progress of Hawai'i students.

National education officials and advocates attributed the 9-year-olds' performance to a recent emphasis on elementary schools and getting children reading as early as possible. They said the results also showed more attention must be paid to students in secondary schools.

"We need to go to work," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in an interview.

Spellings also credited No Child Left Behind, the education law President Bush signed in January 2002 that mandates frequent testing of students to chart their progress in reading and math.

During an appearance yesterday at an African-American business convention in Indianapolis, Bush claimed some credit for narrowing the gap in test scores between black and white elementary school students.

To help high school students do better, Bush also has proposed providing early intervention for failing students and testing of all ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders.

On last year's National Assessment, sometimes known as the nation's report card, 9-year-olds earned their highest scores since the tests were first given — reading in 1971 and math in 1973.

The exams are given periodically to 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds, most recently in 1999.

On a scale of 0-500, the 9-year-olds scored 219 in reading in 2004, compared with 212 in 1999 and 208 in 1971. In math, they scored 241 last year, 232 in 1999 and 219 in 1973.

The message is "that persistence pays off," said Francie Alexander, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test.

Results were mixed for 13-year-olds, and remained flat for 17-year-olds.

Among the racial groups, most gaps in reading and math scores showed some narrowing. Every age group, except for Hispanic 13-year-olds, cut into the achievement gap with whites in comparison with the 1970s.

Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said No Child Left Behind wasn't completely responsible for the good results. She noted that many states had begun to focus on education long before the law.

Rather, Cortese credited teachers, administrators and schools.

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocate for poor and minority students, said the results put "to rest the notion that achievement gaps are inevitable. Expectations have increased, and students of color are rising to the challenge."