State Fourth- And Eighth-Graders Better Readers Than National Average
By GRACE E. MERRITT
March 25, 2010
HARTFORD - Connecticut's fourth- and eighth-graders read at a higher level of proficiency than most of the nation overall, and eighth-graders showed improvement over previous scores on a national standardized test.
But the percentage of students in those grades reading at or above the proficient level is still surprisingly low, with less than half meeting the goal.
The results also show that the state's academic achievement gap between poor students and their wealthier counterparts hasn't budged.
"The essence of it is that Connecticut's relative performance is strong but the results show that our achievement gap continues to be the issue before us," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "We need ways to address the needs of poor and minority students if we expect to see our overall performance improve."
Connecticut's eighth-grade reading proficiency overall increased by 6 percentage points, with 43 percent scoring at or above the proficient level on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test known as "The Nation's Report Card."
That performance means that Connecticut scored better than 43 other states, essentially tying with Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
State educators attributed the eighth-grade improvement to school districts' efforts to improve literacy instruction for all students.
Connecticut fourth-graders held steady, with 42 percent scoring at or above the proficient level, up 1 percentage point from 2007, the last time the test was given. That means they outperformed 48 other states. Only Massachusetts had a significantly higher percentage of students with better scores, Murphy said.
"It's pretty good news. We've been up there in reading for some years, but our gaps continue," Murphy said.
Only 18 percent of Connecticut's economically disadvantaged students performed at the proficient level or above, compared with 52 percent of their wealthier peers.
"This is Connecticut's story. We can't seem to address this issue adequately," Murphy said. "We know we are dealing with students coming in from other countries and we are dealing with poverty and people who have language barriers. They come in from elsewhere, receive an education, do better and then move out to the suburbs. Then a new group of people moves in to the cities and we start over."
He said the state has tried to address the achievement gap by investing heavily in preschool programs and proposing high school reform, including a plan to open a learning center for English-language learners at Eastern Connecticut State University.
The test results were released after the education department reported this week that newly calculated high school graduation rates show that just 79 percent of students in the state get their diplomas on time. According to the report, that number drops to 59 percent for low-income students.
School reform advocates had a mixed reaction to the reading test scores, adding that their analysis shows that low-income students lag their wealthier counterparts by nearly three grade levels.
"While it's always good to celebrate aspects that are positive, such as Connecticut's good scores overall, we are not closing the achievement gap," said Alex Johnston, chief operating officer of ConnCAN, a charter school advocacy group.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress test is given every two years in reading and math to a representative sampling of students in grades 4 and 8 in what is the closest thing to a national test the country has for grades K-12. Math test results released in October showed similar results, with Connecticut performing well above the national average, but with a similar achievement gap.
Connecticut education officials said the test is more challenging than the state's academic achievement test, the Connecticut Mastery Test.
"People should understand that the NAEP standard for proficiency is a high standard. It's an aspiration standard. It's designed to promote more work for higher achievement levels," Murphy said.
Nationally, reading scores on the assessment test barely moved, with fourth-grade scores flat and eighth-grade scores up by one point, disappointing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said students aren't making the progress necessary to compete in the global economy.
"We shouldn't be satisfied with these results. By this and many other measures, our students aren't on a path to graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the workplace," Duncan said Wednesday.
Duncan and Obama administration officials are pushing for school reforms designed to better prepare teachers and tie their evaluations to student performance, build data systems to track how well students are doing and create a more challenging, uniform curriculum.
The report is available online at www.nationsreportcard.gov/
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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