An examination of the trends in recent test scores shows the good news is that Arizona forth graders are improving; the bad news is the gains aren't lasting.
The chart below presents fourth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress reading trends for two different income groups of Anglo and Hispanic students in Arizona. We see positive trends in all four categories of students. Since 1998, the percentage of low-income Anglos and Hispanics who score at the "basic" level or better-meaning they read at grade level-increased by 21% and 44% respectively. Among higher income Anglos and Hispanics, scores increased by 10% and 25% respectively. Not only has progress been made with both income levels of both ethnicities, achievement gaps have also narrowed.
Unfortunately, 23 percent of students in the best performing group on the chart (middle- and upper-income Anglo students) still are not adequately reading by the fourth grade. Mark your calendar for those kids to begin dropping out in 2011. Furthermore, the trends in eighth grade reading have been negative in these same four categories of students since 1998. So, while we see some positive signs, we should hold off on the champagne.
Arizona's aggregate scores for all students have been mostly flat and remain below the national average. We should celebrate the gains we are making, but we need faster progress. And that will require bolder initiatives on parental choice and teacher quality.
*Timeline reflects the years NAEP reading exams were given in Arizona.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.
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