Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 | 7 a.m.
Only a third of Nevada fourth- and eighth-grade students are proficient in math and reading, according to a federal report released today.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress — also known as the "nation’s report card" — tests students in those grades every two years. Test questions cover a variety of math and reading areas, including geometry, algebra and reading comprehension on fiction and nonfiction texts.
Nevada students have improved on the test over the past decade and are improving at a faster rate than the nation. However, the Silver State still ranks among the bottom 15 states in test scores. This year, Nevada’s test scores were below the national average by between four and six points.
“Overall, I am pleased with the NAEP report this year,” Nevada Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said in a statement. “We are not making the gains I would like to see, but we are not losing ground. As we continue to implement important education reform strategies and more rigorous academic standards in Nevada, I expect to see positive results.”
Here are the key findings from the 2013 report:
• 27 percent of Nevada fourth-graders are proficient in reading, an increase of 7 percentage points since 2003. Nationally, students increased by 4 percentage points since 2003.
• 30 percent of Nevada eighth-graders are proficient in reading, an increase of 9 percentage points since 2003. Nationally, students increased by 5 percentage points.
• 34 percent of Nevada fourth-graders are proficient in math, an increase of 11 percentage points since 2003. Nationally, students increased by 7 percentage points.
• 28 percent of Nevada eighth-graders are proficient in math, an increase of 8 percentage points since 2003. Nationally, students increased by 7 percentage points.
• Nevada is one of 11 states that showed a statistically significant gain over 2011 reading scores for eighth-graders. The average scores in math for fourth- and eighth-graders and in reading for fourth-graders remained stagnant from 2011, similar to the national trends.
• Female students tended to score higher than male students in reading, but were more equal in math.
In addition, there were disparities in proficiency rates among different races:
Asian and white students scored the highest, with about half of students deemed proficient. Hispanic and black students scored the lowest. Proficiency rates for Hispanic students ranged between 18 and 26 percent; for black students, proficiency rates ranged between 14 and 19 percent.
Poverty, learning disabilities and lack of English-language knowledge also affected students’ proficiency levels.
Among students who receive free and reduced-price lunches, proficiency rates ranged between 19 and 27 percent. About two-thirds of Clark County public school students participate in the federally subsidized meal program.
Among students with disabilities, proficiency rates ranged between 6 and 17 percent. Among English-language learners, between 2 and 14 percent of students were proficient.
Researchers from the National Center for Education Statistics, which administered the test this year to more than 719,000 students in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Defense Department schools, did not explain the steady but slight increase in test scores over the past several years.
“The (test) is very good at finding out where we stand and what the trends are over time,” said Jack Buckley, the center’s commission. “We’re not qualified (to say) why.”
Buckley downplayed the role that student demographics may have played in the test score increases.
States like Massachusetts, which has a high population of white students, have historically done well on the national test. On the other hand, states like Nevada, which counts Hispanics as its largest student group, have historically underperformed.
However, the test data show other factors, such as poverty, can also affect a state’s test scores, Buckley said.
“Without question, demographics plays a role,” Buckley said. “(But) demography is not destiny in the case of education.”
The test, administered since 1990, is considered by many education leaders to be a key measure of American students’ academic progress and is the only standardized test used in Nevada to compare local students to the rest of the nation.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the 2013 test results an “encouraging but modest sign of progress.” Duncan credited teachers and new education changes for the higher test scores, but said he remained disappointed that large test score gaps persist nationally between white and black students and white and Hispanic students.
“If America’s students are to remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy, our public schools must greatly accelerate the rate of progress of the last four years and do more to narrow America’s large achievement gaps,” Duncan said in a statement. “It is an urgent moral and economic imperative that our schools do a better job of preparing students for today’s globally competitive world.”