WASHINGTON – The Nation's Report Card is improving,according to long-term trend statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.
Mathematics and reading scores for students ages 9 and 13 showed gains between 1999 and 2004,but scores for 17-year-olds were stagnant.
“I think this significant change in public education has been in the accountability,the measurement,the reporting,” said Darvin Winick,chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board,which administers the test that forms the report card. “Most of that has occurred in recent years.”
The National Education Association,the country’s largest teachers union,is pleased with the results,said spokesman Daniel Kaufman.
“This is what our members have been working on every day for decades,” Kaufman said.
In a statement,U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings attributed the improvements,particularly in minority groups,to No Child Left Behind standards.
“We are at the beginning of a journey and certainly have room for improvement,particularly at the high school level,” Spellings said.
Elementary and middle school students may be improving on tests,but tests show high school students are making no progress,even though the students who took the test reported taking more math courses than their predecessors.
“The inability of many students who receive a diploma and then are unable to succeed in post-secondary endeavors is troublesome,” Winick said.
But gaps between white,black and Hispanic scores are closing,said Grover J. Whitehurst,director of the Institute of Education Sciences and acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Studies. On a 500-point scale,9-year-old black students showed a 30-point increase from 1971 to 2004,and half of that occurred between 1999 and 2004.
The reading gap between white and black 13-year-olds has decreased 17 points since 1971,and the reading gap between white and Hispanic 17-year-olds has closed 12 points since 1975,when the government began keeping statistics on Hispanic students.
“It usually takes about five or 10 years for reform efforts to really take effect,” Kaufman said. “In order to sustain that progress,we need to have stronger investments at both the federal level and the state level.”
The test was not given to all students – a sample of 28,000 students from all 50 states participated in six different assessments.
The government has been keeping tabs on long-term achievement since 1971,administering the tests biannually in the 1990s.
But there has been a five-year gap between the two latest tests. The longer gap is to accommodate more frequent annual testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act,Whitehurst said.
The National Assessment Governing Board administers its main tests,which all students in fourth and eighth grade take each year. Those results are released in the fall and are broken down into both national and state statistics.
The long-term test can be used in conjunction with other education data to measure schools' progress,Kaufman said.
“It can be a useful measure,but we have said all along that those should be just one factor in looking at what kind of progress we're making,” he said.