Improvement in U.S. schools is reported

September 29, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The United States is making progress -- albeit slow -- toward improving its educational system and the health and safety of its school-age students, but direct action on the local level is needed to reduce dropout rates and drug use, said a federal report released yesterday.

The National Education Goals Panel, which was convened in 1989 to assess the quality of education in America, cites several areas of improvement over the five years: Incidents involving violence and abuse of alcohol in schools have declined, while mathematics achievement and student health have improved.

But the panel warns that drug abuse in schools is on the rise, and little improvement has been noted in other key indicators.

"We're closer to meeting our national education goals," said Maine Gov. John McKernan, outgoing chairman of the panel. "But it will take concerted action on the part of the public and policy makers if we are to meet the goals we've established."

Performance on mathematics achievement tests among fourth and eighth graders increased markedly from 1990 to 1992, the most recent year from which results are available.

In 1990, only 20 percent of students in grade eight and just 13 percent each in grades four and 12 were able to meet the panel's performance standards. This year's report shows a 5 percentage-point jump in scores for fourth and eighth graders, and a 3 percentage point improvement for 12th graders.

But a breakdown of those results showed remaining difficulties. Females did as well as males in grades four and eight, but lagged significantly in grade 12.

White students in grades four and eight were the only racial group to make substantial gains in mathematics.

The math results are based on nationwide sample of public and private school scores on the the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

A look at alcohol and drug abuse among students shows mixed results. While incidents of extreme alcohol consumption among public school students have dropped, student drug use remains a significant problem.

The number of 10th graders who reported using any illicit drug during the previous year remained at about one in four in 1993, the report said, and 20 percent said someone had offered to sell or give them drugs at school in the previous year.

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