Texas fourth- and eighth-graders are not progressing in reading. That’s a key finding in the newly released results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. But if you dig deeper into the state scores on the respected test, which is given voluntarily nationwide, you will discover encouraging signs.
The most reassuring finding is that our fourth- and eighth-graders are outpacing their peers from the same demographic background nationwide. That includes in reading, where Texas scores have remained relatively flat. It’s worth taking the time to look carefully at the chart that accompanies this editorial. Start with the math scores for Texas’ eighth-graders: When compared with their demographic peers nationally, every Texas ethnic group finished among the top four states. Black and Latino eighth-graders finished second, and they beat their national averages by at least 14 points. Only black students in Hawaii beat our African-American eighth-graders. Only Latinos in Montana scored better than our Hispanic eighth-graders. Now check out the math scores for fourth-graders: African-American fourth-graders in Texas finished second nationally among their peers. They also beat the national average for black fourth-graders.
Texas’ Hispanic fourth-graders finished 12th nationally among their peers and scored better than the national average for Latinos. Texas’ Anglo fourth-graders finished seventh nationally among their peers and trumped the national average for white students. Even the reading scores show positive signs upon deeper examination: The results from each of our demographic groups in fourth and eighth grade beat their respective national averages. Certainly the numbers need to continue to improve, but they show Texas has a range of young students who are grasping math better than their demographic peers nationally. We will take this victory, given Texas’ large minority student population and the importance of math in building a good education.
Now, here’s the troubling message, and it’s a persistent one. Texas still has a serious achievement gap between the scores of white and minority students. Math and reading scores for Texas’ black and Latino students trail the scores for Texas’ white students. It’s a gap that shows up in both fourth- and eighth-grade test results. Texas educators are already painfully aware of this achievement gap. This latest research only confirms why schools need to keep addressing the differences. The solution is long and complex. It includes recruiting and developing quality teachers, intervening early with struggling students and providing decent facilities in which to learn. But there are reassuring trends in these latest scores, which are the result of hard work by many Texas students, teachers and principals. They’ve earned the state’s praise.
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