California Students' Math, Reading Scores Among Lowest
By Emma Vaughn
Times Staff Writer
2:49 PM PDT, October 19, 2005
WASHINGTON — Despite slight gains in math scores, California elementary and middle school students still rank among the lowest nationally in reading and math, according to test results released today.
With 40% below basic proficiency, California eighth-graders' reading scores were the third lowest in the nation, after Hawaii and the District of Columbia.
"No matter how you look at this data, California is at the bottom," said Russlynn Ali, executive director of Education Trust-West. "There is something systematically wrong with the way we approach educating all students in this state."
Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction, attributed the state's low reading scores to the number of students permitted to take the test who were still learning English.
"We accepted a higher proportion of English learner students than any other state in the country," O'Connell said. "Our exclusion rate of English learners was 12%, while Texas' exclusion rate was 37.5%, and New York's was 29%."
While math scores in California remained significantly below the national average, there has been consistent improvement in student performance over the last 15 years.
Results showed that 28% of California fourth-graders were proficient or better in math, up 3 percentage points from 2003 and 15 percentage points from 1992. Eighth-grade improvement in math was not as significant, but still managed to be the highest of the decade with 22% at or above the proficiency level.
"It is really puzzling because we have grade by grade content standards in both reading and mathematics," said Stanford education professor Michael Kirst. "But it appears that these are only paying off for mathematics. This really calls for a deeper exploration into why mathematics is doing so much better."
More than 640,000 students nationwide took the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress test, a federal exam used to measure the performance of fourth- and eighth-grade students.
Three results were given: basic, proficient and advanced. Students at the proficiency level "demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter," said the U.S. Department of Education.
The top-performing students in both grades and categories came from Massachusetts, where 44% of students were above the proficiency level in reading for fourth- and eighth-grade.
Despite significant improvements in both tests, the District of Columbia averaged the lowest scores across the board, with 69% of eighth-graders and 55% of fourth-graders scoring below the basic proficiency level in mathematics.
California remained closer to the bottom of the test results in part because the exam was not aligned with the content taught in California's classrooms, O'Connell said.
"Results on our statewide tests, which are aligned to our rigorous standards, indicate that a focus on high expectations is leading to steady gains in student achievement," he said.
While California's education standards are regarded as the most rigorous in the nation, it is clear that the state's curriculum is doing little to improve performance, Ali said.
Overall scores in California reflected many of the national trends, with fourth-graders performing markedly better than eighth-graders in math and reading. Nationwide, math scores among fourth-graders were up for every major racial and ethnic group since the most recent test, in 2003.
Some education experts attributed the disparity to a long-term trend of dwindling academic focus on older students.
"It's time we got very serious about bringing reform to our secondary schools, particularly to help older students grasp the critical reading skills they will need to be successful in high school, college and the workplace," said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust.
At a meeting with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings today, President Bush called the report encouraging and said it reflected the positive progress of No Child Left Behind, the education law he made a centerpiece of his first term domestic policy agenda.
"It shows there's an achievement gap in America that is closing; that minority students, particularly in fourth grade math and fourth grade reading, are beginning to catch up with their Anglo counterparts," he said.
While the "experts" ponder what is wrong, perhaps they should ask some teachers.
The actual reports can be found at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/. I encourage you to look at the reports rather than the spin zone of advocates.