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STATE TEST SCORE TRENDS: New Report Finds Eighth-Grade Students Making Steady Progress on Math and Reading State Tests

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“It’s widely perceived that students in the middle grades are doing poorly,” said Jack Jennings

Although student achievement in eighth grade is widely perceived as not improving, a new Center for Education Policy (CEP) study argues that eighth-grade students seem to be making progress, particularly in math. However, the report, State Test Score Trends through 2008–09, Part 3: Student Achievement at 8th Grade also finds persistent achievement gaps in the advanced level of achievement.

The study analyzes trends from state reading and math tests, which are required for accountability purposes under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It examines the percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level of achievement—the main indicator of progress under NCLB—as well as the percentage scoring above the basic and advanced levels. The data includes results from 2002 through 2009 for students overall and for the major subgroups tracked under NCLB. The report notes that test data was not considered if, during the period of analysis, a state had introduced new tests or changed its benchmarks for proficiency.

According to the study, forty-two states—100 percent of the states studied—showed gains in their percentages of eighth-grade students reaching the advanced level in math. In reading, thirty-five states showed increases in their percentages of eighth-grade students reaching the advanced level; five states showed declines and two states showed no change. The report also compares trends at grade eight with trends at grade four and the high school grade tested in each state for NCLB and found that in both subjects, a larger proportion of states showed gains at grade eight than at the other two grades for all three achievement levels.

“It’s widely perceived that students in the middle grades are doing poorly,” said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of CEP. “If that were true, we would expect to see flat scores and little progress when compared with elementary or high schools. To the contrary, more states showed gains at grade eight than showed gains at grade four and high school.”

The report points out that these trend lines do not acknowledge the large differences among states in the percentages of students who score at advanced or proficient levels. For example, in eighth-grade reading, New York reported that only 5 percent of its students reached the advanced level on its state test while Utah and Kansas reported that 61 percent of its eighth-grade students scored at the advanced level. It was a similar story in math—New Mexico reported that only 7 percent of its students reached the advanced level while two states, Kansas and Virginia, reported that more than 50 percent of its students scored at the advanced level.

There was also a notable difference among states in the percentages of students scoring proficient in math and reading. While the District of Columbia reported that 45 percent of students were proficient on state tests in reading, Nebraska reported 95 percent of students as proficient. As for states reporting percentages of students reaching the basic level, most came in at 80 or 90 percent in reading and 70 percent in math.

State Test Score Trends through 2008–09, Part 3 also analyzes 2009 reading and math scores by student subgroups including African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, white, and low-income students. Asian American eighth graders outperformed all subgroups in reading and math at the proficient and advanced level. The study also finds widening achievement gaps at the advanced level for African American, Latino, and Native American eighth graders in the majority of states in the study. In addition, the gap in math achievement between low-income students and non low-income students also widened in all but one state.

The report authors compare their findings to other international student assessment tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which shows that eighth-grade reading scores remained flat between 2002 and 2009 and eighth-grade math scores increased steadily and slowly over the same period. The CEP study also shows more progress in eighth-grade math than in reading. NAEP and state tests also differ in content, format, administration, and definitions in proficiency. CEP offers the explanation that students could be more motivated to do well on state tests because they are connected to higher stakes.

To read the full report visit http://www.cep-dc.org/ .

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No Child Left Behind

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