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American students' performance lags on Nation's Report Card

MGN Online

The latest Nation's Report Card is painting a dismal picture of math and reading achievement among American fourth and eighth graders despite a few bright spots.

Posted: Oct 30, 2019 4:52 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest Nation's Report Card is painting a dismal picture of math and reading achievement among American fourth and eighth graders despite a few bright spots.

Students in the nation's capital, which faced multiple scandals in its public school system last year, made significant gains in both reading and math this year, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. There also were major improvements in Mississippi, bucking a national trend that showed America's eighth graders falling behind in math and reading and declines among fourth graders in math.

Nationwide, a little more than a third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. About a third of fourth graders are proficient in reading, while more than 40% of fourth graders are proficient in math.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the overall national results demonstrated a "student achievement crisis" that can't be fixed by pouring more money into the traditional public school system. She renewed her pitch for expanded school choice, including her proposals for federal tax credits for donations made to groups offering scholarships for private schools, apprenticeships, school vouchers and greater reliance on privately run charter schools.

"Our children continue to fall further and further behind their international peers," she said in a speech Wednesday. "If we embrace education freedom, American students can achieve. American students can compete."

In Washington, schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee credited the improved performance by the city's students to a number of factors, including the 2010 institution of universal free pre-K schooling for 3- and 4-year-olds living in D.C. That first crop of Washington preschoolers to benefit from the program would be in eighth and ninth grade now, Ferebee said.

"Many of our students are getting a strong start in their learning," said Ferebee, who also credited Washington's commitment to comparatively high teacher salaries that "allow us to be competitive at a time when there's a nationwide shortage of good teachers."

The nationwide test is given to a random sampling of students in the fourth and eighth grades every two years.

Students made big gains in math in the 1990s and 2000s but have shown little improvement since then. Reading scores have risen a little since the tests began in 1992.

The decline in both reading and math performance among eighth grade students preparing to enter high school was especially concerning, officials said.

"Eighth grade is a transitional point in preparing students for success in high school, so it is critical that researchers further explore the declines we are seeing here, especially the larger, more widespread declines across states we are seeing in reading," Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters during a conference call.

Both low- and high-achieving eighth graders slipped in reading, but the declines were generally worse for lower-performing students.

Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said that it's hard to find a coherent story across different state and local school districts, but that he hoped the results would "spur us to do something a little more vigorous."

"We've just absolutely stalled," Willingham said.

One theory is that decreased performance is a residue of economic decline and spending cuts by school districts. Michael Petrilli, president of education reform group the Thomas Fordham Institute, has pointed to data showing that performance has risen and fallen on the test in the past in sync with the economy.

"What we saw is that great calamity had lingering impacts," Petrilli said. He said that could also be why "we'd be seeing particularly disappointing results at the lowest end of the spectrum."

Officials noted gains in Mississippi, where for the first time in the test's history, fourth graders scored above the national average in math and at the national average in reading. The state remained behind national averages in eighth grade but continued to improve in math and held its ground in reading despite nationwide losses.

"Our achievement is at an all-time high in Mississippi," said state Superintendent Carey Wright.

The state has been among a number with a heavy focus on improving early literacy, but Wright said Mississippi also has devoted resources to helping teachers improve math instruction after it adopted new standards.

"When you improve kids' reading ability, it's not surprising that kids' math ability falls in line," Wright said.

The nation's large-city public schools, which educate more poor students and English language learners, also saw good news. Big-city schools still performed below the nation as a whole but further narrowed the gap.

In the last 20 years, the achievement gap between big-city schools and the nation has narrowed by about 50% in reading and math, the Council of the Great City Schools said. The schools are now about five to eight points below national averages on NAEP's 500-point scale.

"We still have more to do, but the era of poor performance in our nation's urban public-school systems has ended, and it has been replaced by results, accountability and promise," the council's executive director, Michael Casserly, said in a news release.

The results are a particularly welcome victory for Washington, D.C., public schools, which endured a string of high-profile scandals at the high school level last year. Officials at multiple Washington high schools were found to have been systematically altering attendance records in order to maintain high graduation rates by graduating chronically truant students. And Ferebee's predecessor, Antwan Wilson, was forced to resign after revelations that he skirted his own rules to place his daughter in a prestigious high school while skipping a 600-student waiting list.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds304154
DeSoto200920
Madison150839
Jones123149
Harrison118316
Rankin113719
Neshoba104577
Forrest104343
Lauderdale97281
Scott83115
Jackson80419
Washington75313
Copiah67516
Leake63520
Lee63022
Grenada6259
Oktibbeha62328
Warren60021
Holmes59841
Lamar5847
Wayne56819
Yazoo5667
Lowndes54917
Leflore53956
Lincoln53835
Pike51120
Lafayette5094
Sunflower5058
Panola4616
Monroe46036
Simpson4533
Covington4505
Bolivar41618
Tate39513
Attala38624
Newton37710
Adams36720
Pontotoc3636
Marion34912
Claiborne31511
Pearl River30832
Chickasaw30219
Winston30211
Marshall2973
Jasper2826
Noxubee2799
Walthall2748
Clay26211
Smith25612
Union25612
Coahoma2356
Clarke22825
Lawrence2162
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1974
Montgomery1863
Kemper18414
Carroll18311
Humphreys17410
Calhoun1705
Hancock15213
Itawamba1478
Tippah14711
Jefferson1373
Webster13511
Prentiss1274
Tunica1263
George1253
Jefferson Davis1254
Greene11610
Alcorn1112
Amite1113
Tishomingo1091
Quitman1011
Wilkinson1019
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin572
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena111
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson7012170
Mobile5061140
Montgomery4599112
Tuscaloosa274353
Madison25359
Marshall205012
Shelby176425
Lee164737
Morgan13975
Baldwin134111
Walker111332
Elmore107622
Etowah106914
Dallas10189
DeKalb10017
Franklin95016
Unassigned77728
Autauga71515
Russell7130
Chambers68530
Cullman6686
Limestone6653
Butler65529
Houston6417
Tallapoosa63069
Lauderdale6006
St. Clair5983
Calhoun5545
Colbert5286
Escambia5128
Lowndes49222
Pike4805
Jackson4422
Coffee4364
Covington43512
Talladega4177
Dale4061
Barbour4022
Bullock37810
Hale36323
Marengo36111
Chilton3452
Blount3311
Clarke3236
Wilcox3158
Marion30914
Winston3095
Sumter29713
Pickens2786
Randolph2759
Monroe2683
Perry2552
Conecuh2388
Bibb2271
Macon2229
Choctaw22012
Greene2009
Henry1573
Washington1529
Lawrence1460
Crenshaw1343
Cherokee1317
Geneva1010
Fayette901
Clay892
Lamar891
Coosa671
Cleburne481
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