By Rose French and Eric Stirgus, ajc.com Staff Writers
Reading and math scores decreased slightly in Georgia and remain mostly below U.S. averages, with students struggling to improve understanding of the core subjects, according to 2015 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Frequently referred to as the “nation’s report card,” NAEP tests a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country every other year. In Georgia, fourth-graders scored four points lower in math than they did in 2013. Eighth-graders scored two points lower in reading, the data showed.
The average score remained the same as two years ago among fourth-graders in reading and eighth-graders in math. Fourth-grade reading was the only category in which Georgia students scored slightly higher than the national average. Nationally, Georgia ranks in the bottom half compared to other states. The assessments were given to a random sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders in public and private schools.
State education officials are particularly concerned about the four-point drop in fourth-grade math and planned to refocus efforts on getting students better prepared in “foundational” work, increasing literacy efforts at an early age so students are better able to read and comprehend math and reading.
“These results underscore the importance of strengthening our students’ foundational skills in reading and math,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods in a released statement. “At the state level, we’re committed to supporting districts in that work by producing better resources for teachers, fully vetting any new standards and initiatives, and providing greater flexibility so schools have room to innovate.”
The NAEP tests are viewed as a credible national measure of academic progress. Georgia students have lagged in math and reading for years. In response, state education leaders have sought to increase the rigor of statewide standardized tests to make them more in line with national standardized tests like NAEP and the SAT college entrance exam.
State education officials say the NAEP results are in line with the statewide Georgia Milestones scores released in September. Those scores showed a lower percentage of students scoring as proficient, compared to the now-retired CRCT statewide standardized test.
The NAEP results come on the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement Saturday that it wants to cap test-taking time at 2 percent of classroom time, stating there’s too much testing in schools. Woods was elected in 2014, in part, on his concern that there’s too much testing in schools.
Woods said in a released statement that he was encouraged by the Obama administration’s announcement. Several months ago Woods called for a testing audit to determine ways in which the state and local districts could reduce standardized tests. Georgia legislators would likely have to look at changing laws to reduce the number of standardized tests taken by students in Georgia.
The NAEP results highlighted the ongoing challenge Georgia has in educating many low-income and nonwhite students. Georgia students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, who tend not to do as well academically, scored about 25 points lower than all students, the data showed. About three-fifths of Georgia students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and the percentage is increasing.
The good news, the report showed, is the percentage point gap has decreased over the past decade.
White students in Georgia scored 17 to 25 points better than black and Hispanic students in each category, the results showed. The gap was slightly greater a decade ago in each category.
Students with the Atlanta Public Schools system — one of the major U.S. urban districts included in the NAEP results — had lower scores than the statewide averages, the results showed. APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in a statement she was encouraged by long-term gains in the two subjects over the past decade.
Julie Abram, a parent with two children in APS schools, says she’s disappointed by the NAEP results. She adds, however, that while some standardized testing is important, it’s only one measurement of student achievement.
“We test a lot but that doesn’t really give the true picture of what’s going on in the schools,” she said. “I don’t want to say testing doesn’t matter because it does. But at the same time, it cannot be the end all, the final line on how we measure things….We put too much emphasis on it.”
Where Georgia stands
Here are the national averages, then Georgia’s scores, in these categories on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress. These scores are out of 500 possible points.
Math, 4th-grade: 240, 236
Math, 8th-grade: 281, 279
Reading, 4th-grade: 221, 222
Reading, 8th-grade: 264, 262