Md. pupils show gain in math test

Reading scores lag in national assessment

November 14, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland schoolchildren are improving steadily in a national test of mathematical ability, but they have not matched that performance in reading, according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress released yesterday.

Often called "America in miniature," Maryland closely followed national trends in the tests, which are given to a sampling of pupils in fourth grade and eighth grade. Mathematics performance improved in both grades in this year's test. But Maryland reading scores, though they rose modestly in the fourth grade, have been flat for eighth-graders since 1998.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she was disappointed "but not surprised" at the reading results. "There hasn't been enough commitment to change among reading teachers," she said, "and too many are coming into the profession unprepared to teach reading."

Maryland's fourth-grade math scores increased by 11 points from 2000 to 2003, while eighth-grade math scores improved six points.

Fourth-grade reading scores improved two points over last year's. National reading scores declined this year by a single point in the fourth and eighth grades.

In releasing the nation's report card, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige noted that more pupils than ever are scoring in the proficient and advanced categories in math, and that a glaring gap between the performance of whites and minorities is showing signs of narrowing.

But the gap remains. In Maryland, 21 percent of white eighth-graders scored below "basic" in mathematics - that is, they flunked - while 56 percent of black children fell in that category. Children eligible for free lunches, those with disabilities and those whose parents have little education also trailed badly in the testing.

"The reading results are disheartening," said Robert E. Slavin, chairman of the Towson-based Success for All Foundation, which has engineered the reform of 1,500 schools in 48 states. "More phonics is being taught, and there's less wild and crazy stuff. But if you visit 100 schools, you'll find most of them teaching reading the same old way."

By contrast, said Slavin, mathematicians first agreed on a set of national standards in 1989. "Old-fashioned math is being replaced ever so gradually by math that emphasizes problem-solving, and NAEP assesses that kind of math. In reading, we haven't been able to change the definition so easily," he said.

Grasmick noted that the fourth-graders learned to read in the late 1990s, as Maryland was adding more phonics to the curriculum and requiring teachers to take more reading courses.

"These NAEP results show how far we still have to go and why our Reading First grant is so crucial," she said.

The state recently won a $66 million, six-year grant from the federal government to improve reading instruction.

Sally Shaywitz, a researcher and professor of pediatrics at Yale University, called the NAEP results "a wake-up call. We now know that there's a scientific basis for the teaching of reading. But we're not acting on it quickly enough. It's unethical not to do better."

NAEP is given to a demographically representative sample of children. More than 330,000 children in 13,600 schools took the tests this year.

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