This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 24, 2010 - Missouri doesn't have to hide the reading report card it got on Wednesday.
When results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the NAEP, often called the nation's report card -- were released, Missouri was one of only nine states that showed significant gains in reading among eighth graders.
Chris Nicastro, Missouri's commissioner of elementary and secondary education, called the results encouraging -- but only a start.
"Our goal is for Missouri to rank in the Top 10 of all states in terms of academic performance, and NAEP results will be one of the key indicators for our progress," she said in a statement. "Although we still have much to do, these NAEP scores for reading are very encouraging.
"Missouri did make headway last year in reducing performance gaps for minority and free- and reduced-price lunch students. This continues to be a challenge for every school and district in our state."
Michael Muenks, coordinator for curriculum and assessment for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state had been concentrating on improving middle-school reading programs, and he hopes to build on the progress that the eighth-graders showed in the latest test by giving the support needed to local schools and districts.
"All the credit needs to go to the school districts and the teachers," he said. "We’re really just facilitating the process. They’re doing the hard work."
Nationwide, eighth-graders showed slight improvement in the latest reading scores, from 2009, compared with the previous tests in 2007. Fourth-graders held steady. While eighth-graders showed significant gains in nine states, fourth-graders improved in two states and the District of Columbia while scores fell in four states. Tests are scored on a range of 0 to 500.
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In Missouri, the average score for eighth-graders was 267, compared with the national average of 262 and the 2007 score of 263. The percentage of students whose scores were in the advanced category remained the same, at 3 percent, which was also the national level, while the percentage of those at or above proficient rose to 34 percent from 31 percent in 2007.
For fourth-graders, the average score was 224, compared with the national average of 220 and the 2007 score of 221. The percentage of students whose scores were advanced rose to 8 percent, from 7 percent in 2007, compared with a national level of 8 percent, and the percentage of those at or above proficient also rose, to 36 percent from 32 percent.
For Illinois eighth-graders, the average score rose to 265 from 263, compared with the national average of 262. The percentage of students whose scores were advanced stayed the same, at 2 percent, and the percentage of those at or above proficient rose, to 33 percent from 30 percent.
For Illinois fourth-graders, scores stayed steady from 2007, with an average of 219, below the national average of 220. The percentage of students whose scores were advanced rose to 9 percent, from 8 percent in 2007, and the percentage of those at or above proficient remained the same, at 32 percent.
Nationwide, scores were higher for eighth-graders in all racial-ethnic groups, but the gaps between white and black or Hispanics were about the same from 2007 or 1992, when test results were first compiled.
In the fourth grade, there were no significant changes in scores across racial categories between 2007 and 2009; however, the gap between scores for white students and those for black students had shrunk between 1992 and 2009.
"While fourth-graders haven't shown continued progress in reading from 2007, it is encouraging to see 8th-graders making gains," said David P. Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP.
"And it should be noted that eighth-grade students performing in the lower percentiles had higher scores, which suggests that many students who need the most help are making progress."
Officials in charge of the test said that the 2009 assessment of reading skills was based on a new framework designed to improve how reading comprehension is measured -- not only how well students can find and recall information but how well they can integrate the ideas involved.
To a greater degree than in the past, they said, the test asked students to draw conclusions based on the passages they read, which included poetry, and to evaluate the quality of the arguments that were involved.
Results are based on representative samples of 178,800 fourth-graders from 9,530 schools and 160,900 eighth-graders from 7,030 schools from across all states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense schools.