By MORGAN GIBSON
WASHINGTON (March 24, 2010)—Maryland fourth- and eighth-graders' reading abilities posted only a slight gain in the past two years, but the overall upward trend is encouraging to state education leaders.
The Nation's Report Card 2009 for reading was released at a news conference Wednesday by members of the National Assessment Governing Board, which develops the federally-funded assessment. Only fourth- and eighth-graders were tested.
Overall the nation's reading performance was basically the same as it was in the 2007 report. Only a few states saw improvement in reading abilities, D.C. among them.
Steven Paine, West Virginia's state superintendent and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, said the results were "rather disappointing" considering the amount of effort put forth to improve reading.
From 2007 to 2009, Maryland's average reading score for fourth grade improved one point and for eighth grade improved two points. The state average scores are reported on a 0-500 scale and only measure public school students.
However, Maryland's scores are rising. In 1998, the state's fourth-graders average score was 212, and now that score is 226. The eighth-graders score didn't change as much, but in 1998 it was 261 and now it's 267.
"It is not about a one-year change, it's about a change over time," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. "You need to know where students stand to know where they're going."
Maryland's fourth-grade average score was one point behind Virginia's and 24 points higher than D.C.'s. The state's eighth-grade score was one point higher than Virginia's and 25 points higher than D.C.'s.
Maryland's fourth-grade average score put it in fourth place, tied with Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky and North Dakota. The state's eighth-grade score ranked eighth and is tied with Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Washington, according to Capital News Service calculations.
Also, Maryland's average scores were better than the nation's, which for fourth-graders was 220, and for eighth-graders was 262.
These results were found through tests administered to 178,000 fourth-graders and 160,900 eighth-graders nationwide. These students were participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a program under the State Department of Education that measures what the country's students know and can do in different subjects such as math, reading, science, geography and writing.
The 2009 reading test was altered a little from previous years. While the report is still comparable to other years', this year added poetry to the fourth-grade test, among other small changes.
The reading tests were given in two 25-minute sets, and focused on three different abilities; to critique and evaluate the text, to integrate and interpret the text, and to locate and recall information.
At the news conference, Kim Kozbial-Hess, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and fourth-grade teacher for 20 years in Toledo, Ohio, pointed out how important it is to take life experience and background into account when teaching reading. Hess said students often experience problems when they come across words that aren't a part of their everyday environment.
"It's not a question of innate ability," Hess said. "But rather limited exposure that makes it hard to grasp certain ideas."
Teachers need to figure out ways to tie the stories students are reading to their lives, Hess said.
Reinhard said the report shows a "consistent, clear path of improvement ... our teachers and our students need to be commended for that."
"We're headed in the right direction," he said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.