Idaho eighth-graders beat national average in reading proficiency

broberts@idahostatesman.comNovember 7, 2013 

Chart shows how Idaho fourth- and eighth-graders scored on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests.

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The percentage of Idaho eighth-graders proficient or better in reading exceeded the national average and put Idaho among higher-performing states based on a national assessment given to students last school year.

Results showed about 38 percent of Idaho eighth-graders were proficient or above in reading, ahead of the national average of about 34 percent and in league with 17 other states such as Utah, Colorado, Washington and Montana that also were above the national average.

But the remainder of the state’s fourth- and eighth-graders failed to break through the middle pack of states whose proficiency levels in reading and math were not much different than the nation as a whole.

Results are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given every two years to a sampling of students in each state and Washington, D.C. It is the only exam that gives Idaho a chance to compare its performance to students around the nation.

Results show no significant change in Idaho students’ average scores from 2011.

Among Idaho fourth-grade readers, 32 percent were below basic, which essentially means they are not reading on grade level.

Idaho's showing in the high-standards national assessment may be an indicator of what parents can expect when students start taking the achievement test based on Idaho Core Standards in 2015, said Tom Luna, state superintendent of public instruction. The state anticipates that only about 30 percent to 40 percent of students will be on grade level based on the exams which reflect the higher standards of the Common Core standards going into 45 states.

Idaho’s lackluster fourth-grade reading scores from previous national assessments are contributing to discussions among Idaho businesses and education advocacy groups about ways to improve reading to better prepare students for the workplace.

Idaho Business for Education and other groups, including the Idaho Statesman, are sponsoring a one-day summit Nov. 15 that brings local and national experts to Idaho to address how the state can improve reading skills among young people.

Across the country, the vast majority of the students still are not demonstrating solid academic performance in either subject, according to the assessment.

Just 42 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. In reading, just over a third of fourth and eighth graders hit that mark.

Also, white students again outperformed their Hispanic and African-American counterparts, reinforcing just how tough it is to close achievement gaps among racial groups despite years of focus on the problem.

Still, the nation's school kids do better today on the test than they did in the early 1990s, when such tracking started, with more improvement in math than in reading. Students of all races have shown improvement over the years.

Tennessee and the District of Columbia, which have both launched high-profile efforts to strengthen education by improving teacher evaluations and by other measures, showed across-the-board growth on the test compared to 2011,

Arnie Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said the gains in this year's assessment were "modest."

"It is particularly heartening that reading scores for eighth graders are up, after remaining relatively flat for the last decade," he said. "It is encouraging to see progress in tough economic times, when so many states and local communities have struggled with significant cuts to their education budgets."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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