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Georgia students improve in math, but not reading

LAWRENCEVILLE - Georgia fourth- and eighth-graders posted higher math scores this year on a national standardized test given every two years.

But they're not making similar progress in the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, despite huge commitments of funds during the past several years, including $56 million earmarked by the state for elementary school reading programs.

"All of these investments in reading aren't translating to the NAEP test,'' state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said.

The NAEP test is given to a random sampling of students across the country every other year. Just more than 4,000 Georgia fourth-graders took the test this year, while slightly fewer than 4,000 eighth-graders were given the exam.

The NAEP is considered a more useful tool for comparing students in Georgia with their peers in other states than the SAT because of vastly different student participation rates for the latter test among states.

Georgia students' average score on the fourth-grade math test was 234, up from 230 two years ago. Eighth-graders scored 272 on the math test, a slight increase from 270 in 2003.

On the reading test, however, Georgia fourth-graders' average score of 214 was unchanged from 2003. Eighth-graders actually scored slightly lower in reading, 257 compared to 258 two years ago.

While all of the Georgia scores were below the national average, the state fared better than its last-place showing in the SAT. Georgia fell between 37th and 40th among the 50 states in the four NAEP tests.

Cox was particularly pleased with the fourth-grade math results. Not only were the overall scores up significantly, but the gap between white and black students was 10 points narrower than in 1992.

But the same couldn't be said for either eighth-grade math or the two reading tests. The racial gap in eighth-grade math scores narrowed only three points between 1990 and this year, while the gap in reading scores remained virtually the same.

As has been the case with other tests, the NAEP also produced less encouraging results at the middle school level than for elementary pupils.

"Something happens to the key components of reading and math (between the two levels),'' said Cox. "It has something to do with the curriculum.''

Rep. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Albany, a member of the House Education Committee, brings a different view of the problem from the trenches.

Sims, a retired educator who recently went back to work part time as a fifth-grade reading teacher, said teachers are being overburdened with paperwork and forced to adapt to curriculum overhauls too frequently.

"You spend money and time getting teachers ready to teach the material, and then it's changed to something else,'' she said. "Before you're done with one, you throw it out and start another.''

Cox said the latest changes put in place to help students succeed in the new state curriculum tests are starting to work. For example, elementary school pupils are steadily closing in on the reading standards set for the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, she said.

"What the NAEP results show is there's a national bar we're still not getting to,'' she said. "(But) our new reading curriculum is being taught for the first time this year and is closely aligned with typical national standards. I am very optimistic that these scores will improve.''

Cox noted that NAEP reading scores also were lagging in other states. None showed significant improvement on the reading test.

Georgia fourth- and eighth-graders scored below the national average this year in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, but made improvements in math compared to results from 2003:

Fourth-grade reading

•Georgia: 214, unchanged from 2003

•Nation: 217

•Rank: Tied for 40th with Oklahoma and Tennessee

Fourth-grade math

•Georgia: 234, up from 230

•Nation: 237

•Rank: Tied for 37th with Oklahoma

Eighth-grade reading

•Georgia: 257, down from 258

•Nation: 260

•Rank: Tied for 39th with South Carolina

Eighth-grade math

•Georgia: 272, up from 270

•Nation: 278

•Rank: Tied for 40th with Arkansas and Rhode Island

Source: National Center for Education Statistics