By ROB TRICCHINELLI, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Reading scores are on the rise in Maryland even though they still differ along racial lines.
Maryland was one of only three states to show improvement in reading assessment scores from 2005 to 2007, but large gaps between white and minority students persist in multiple subjects, according to data released Tuesday.
Scores for fourth- and eighth-graders improved since 2005 in reading, but eighth-grade results fluctuated historically, with this year's scores similar to those from 1998.
By contrast, Maryland's reading scores for fourth-graders have improved steadily over the same time.
"The results seem to bear out education reform in the state over a decade and a half," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. The state, he said, has shown steady improvement across the board.
"We're quite pleased," Reinhard said.
National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in mathematics and reading were given in March to fourth- and eighth-grade students nationwide and the results were released Tuesday.
The NAEP, which tested more than 350,000 students each in mathematics and reading, is part of the U.S. Department of Education's No Child Left Behind program.
NAEP scores also indicate significant gaps between white and minority students—gaps that have closed only slightly over the past decade.
Nationally, 81 percent of white eighth-graders scored at a "basic" level or better in math, but only 47 percent of black students and 54 percent of Hispanic students scored at the same level.
"Closing the achievement gap more quickly, I believe, is the major challenge of the next three to five years," said David W. Gordon, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP.
In Maryland, 88 percent of white students, 53 percent of black students and 64 percent of Hispanic students scored at that level.
The gap between white and Hispanic students in Maryland on each of the four tests was smaller than the national average, though the gap between white and black students was approximately the same.
"Maryland has done a real good job working with limited English proficiency and immigrant students," Reinhard said. "Achievement gaps are a national problem. ... These are long-term problems that demand long-term, consistent solutions."
Maryland's reading and math trends at both grade levels mirror what has happened nationally: Math scores have improved significantly in the last decade, but reading scores, especially at the eighth-grade level, have been more stagnant.
"None of these gains in reading have been as substantial or as consistent as the gains in math, and the gaps ... in reading achievement persist—by race, by income level and by gender," said Amanda P. Avallone, a vice chairwoman on the National Assessment Governing Board.
"When I look at these patterns, I'm prompted to wonder," she said. "Where is progress being made? Why is it less robust in reading than in math? And why are the results more mixed than many of us would like to see?"
When conducting tests, the NAEP uses samples of students to derive its final results. These particular tests are conducted every two years, and states are neither rewarded nor punished for their students' scores.
Some Maryland schools don't even have students participate in the assessments, Reinhard said, and the NAEP's techniques don't help in determining changes for specific schools.
"It's a great snapshot, but it's from 30,000 feet up," Reinhard said, adding that Maryland's assessment system, which has a more direct effect on state education policies, predates No Child Left Behind.