Isle eighth-graders improve in math, national report card says

October 16, 2009 by admin 

This article originally appeared in The Honolulu Advertiser, October 14, 2009.

Associated Press and Advertiser Staff

After two decades of slow and steady progress in math, U.S. fourth-graders made no improvement over 2007, according to nationwide test scores released today.

Eighth-graders made headway, posting gains for yet another year.

The results are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a series of federally funded achievement tests often referred to as the nation’s report card. Kids are tested in nine subjects, but they are tested most often in math and reading. Students generally have been making more progress in math than in reading.

In Hawaii, fourth-graders showed slight improvement from 2007 (though not statistically significant, the report said), while eighth-grade scores improved by five points.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said the scores show continued growth by Hawaii students.

“While there is still work to be done, it is evident that standards-based learning in the classroom is making a difference as demonstrated by the continued growth in Hawaii’s NAEP scores in mathematics,” Hamamoto said in a news release. “I extend my congratulations to our students and teachers for their dedication and hard work.”

Hawaii’s percentage of fourth-graders at or above basic was 77 percent, slightly below the national average of 81 percent. The number of the state’s students at or above basic was unchanged from 2007, but reflects an increase of 23 points since 2000.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of Hawaii’s eighth-graders were at or above basic, compared with the national average of 71 percent. That reflects a six percent increase over last year in the percentage of students at or above basic level, and a 14 point increase since 2000.

Since 1990, the national test scores have been rising in both grades, though fourth-graders generally have made bigger gains.

Even so, officials said they were troubled by the lack of progress. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the results are a call to action.

“None of us should be satisfied,” Duncan said in a statement. “We need reforms that will accelerate student achievement. Our students need to graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the workplace.”

This year’s NAEP math tests were given to 168,800 fourth-graders and 161,700 eighth-graders in public and private schools in every state.

On a 500-point scale, fourth-graders on average scored 240, unchanged from two years ago. Eighth-graders on average scored 283, up from 281 two years ago.

Hawaii’s average fourth-grade score was 236, up from 234 in 2007.

Hawaii’s average eighth-grade score was 274, up from 269 in 2007.

Also remaining unchanged were children’s achievement levels; only 39 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders performed at the proficient level, meaning they show the knowledge and skills they should have at that grade level. Eighth-grade scores were up from 32 percent, but that was not statistically different.

According to the results:

— Just four states and the District of Columbia managed to show improvement in both fourth and eighth grades. They are Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The District of Columbia was the only place where kids’ scores improved across every group by race, gender and family income.

— Three states saw improvement in fourth grade only. They are Colorado, Kentucky and Maryland.

— Ten states saw improvement in eighth grade only. They are Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.

— In four states, scores actually dropped among fourth-graders. They are Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming.

In addition, there was no progress from 2007 to 2009 in closing the gap between minority and white students in either grade, though the gap has narrowed somewhat since the 1990s. Black and Hispanic students did make gains at eighth grade, but the gap persisted because white students improved, too.

Experts say this divide, considered one of the toughest challenges in education, is driven by deeply rooted factors. More minority children live in poverty, which is linked to an array of problems that interfere with learning.

Another reason the gap has persisted is demographics — white children made up about 75 percent of students tested in the 1990s but today make up less than 60 percent.

Private school students continue to outperform those in public schools, according to the scores. Private school math scores were 7 points better in fourth grade and 14 points better in eighth grade.

Internationally, U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders have kept improving in math and have gained on some of their toughest competitors. But the most recent tests were done in 2007 and won’t be administered again until 2011.

The complete study is online at:


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