Tennessee and D.C. See Highest Test Score Gains

November 8, 2013

Fourth- and eighth-graders across the country made modest advances in national math and reading exams this year, according to data released Thursday, but proficiency rates remained stubbornly below 50% on every test.

Amid the sluggish progress nationwide, a few areas notched drastic improvements on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, with Tennessee and Washington, D.C., —as well as schools on military bases—the only ones achieving statistically significant gains on all tests.

Washington gained a cumulative 23 points since 2011, while Tennessee posted a 22-point jump—both compared with a 4-point national gain. The exams are scored on a 0-500 scale.

Washington still fell far below national averages, while Tennessee hovers at them or just below. But the rapid progress had many policy makers and politicians wondering if there are lessons to be learned.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the exams, said other states have made large gains in past years, but the growth in Tennessee and D.C. is "worth other states investigating to learn what happened." Still, he cautioned there is a "giant basket of reforms being enacted, so it's hard to know the direct causation."

Other states, including Kentucky, Delaware and Florida, made similar efforts to those in Tennessee and Washington and didn't see as much progress.

The federal government administered the biennial math and reading exams between January and March to a representative sample of public- and private-school students. About 377,000 fourth-graders and 343,000 eighth-graders sat for the tests.

Fourth-graders scored 242 out of 500 in math, up 1 point from 2011, and 222 points in reading, a statistical tie. Eighth-graders scored 285 in math, up 1 point from 2011, and 268 points in reading, a 2-point jump. But only 42% of fourth-graders scored high enough to be considered "proficient" or above in math, and about 35% did so in reading. In eighth grade, 35% of students were proficient or above in math and about 36% in reading

The scores are a big improvement over results when the exams were first given, in the early 1990s. But the slow progress prompted fresh calls for a more rapid remaking of public schools, which are under fire from some business leaders, policy makers and politicians for failing to keep students on a level footing with international peers.

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