Students in Md. gain on reading, math tests

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland students made gains in reading and math on the most recent national tests, in some cases outpacing strides made in other states.

In three of the four tests given in the spring, Maryland ranked slightly above the national average. Still, that means that - as in many other states - fewer than half of Maryland students are passing the national tests.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in reading and math were given to 700,000 students in the fourth and eighth grades in Maryland and across the nation in March.

National results released yesterday show that math scores in both grades were significantly better than in the past several years, while reading scores rose slightly.

"The NAEP data for 2007 - and indeed over the past 15 years - suggest that substantial improvement in reading achievement is eluding us as a nation," Amanda Avallone, an English teacher and member of NAEP's governing board, said during a news conference yesterday in Washington.

The math results were better. "It is hard not to get excited about the fact that math scores have risen almost every time NAEP has given this assessment since it was first administered in 1990," said Kathi M. King, a board member who is a math teacher in Oakland, Maine.

Maryland's fourth-graders were just short of the national average in reading, but the state's eighth-graders bucked the national trend and gained significantly this year.

Maryland officials said the improvement might result from the emphasis that state and local school systems have placed on improving middle schools in the past few years.

Average scores of eighth-graders in the state rose in reading and math. Fourth-grade reading scores also went up, while fourth-grade math scores rose slightly and were considered statistically about the same.

"There are many people who believe these are cutting-edge standards," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools. She said Maryland's state testing program has helped to better prepare students and thus improve performance on the national tests.

Nationally and in Maryland, a greater percentage of students are passing the tests now than in the early 1990s. For instance, 17 percent of eighth-graders in Maryland scored proficient in math in 1990. This year, the proportion more than doubled, to 37 percent.

The gains in eighth-grade math scores were attributed to more students - about 50 percent- taking Algebra I by the end of middle school.

The NAEP, the only national test that measures over decades how students in one state are doing compared with those in another, is considered much more difficult than the variety of state tests given under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

About 70 percent of students in Maryland are passing the Maryland School Assessments at many grade levels. Thirty-three to 40 percent of fourth-graders and eighth-graders are passing NAEP.

NAEP scores continue to show black and Hispanic students lagging significantly, along with those in special education and those who qualify for subsidized meals.

"The NAEP data is important to answer the ideal question of what students need to know to be competitive with other nations," said Ronald Peiffer, deputy state secretary of education for academic policy.

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