[Offtopic] US Grades Rise, but Reading Skills Do Not

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Mon Feb 26 01:17:02 EST 2007

At 04:42 PM 25/02/2007, Robyn writes:

Regarding: <http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/>

> I'm sure I'm not the only one sitting here scratching my head
> at those figures .. 40% of (Year 12 US-students) can't convert
> a decimal to a fraction? .. our pollies should be able to see that
> the quality of teaching provided by the vast majority of Australian
> teachers is delivering the goods. Have a great week. Cheers Robyn

Yes, these US results are certainly heart-breaking, but also as you say
encouraging regarding our Ed systems. It would be of some interest to
conduct the same English / Maths tests with Australian senior students.

Here's Friday's New York Times article regarding the new US reports: 

Grades Rise, but Reading Skills Do Not 
Published: February 23, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 ­ High school students nationwide are taking seemingly 
tougher courses and earning better grades, but their reading skills are 
not improving through the effort, according to two federal reports 
released here Thursday that cite grade inflation as a possible explanation

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam commonly known 
as the nation’s report card, found that the reading skills of 12th 
graders tested in 2005 were significantly worse than those of students in 
1992, when a comparable test was first given, and essentially flat since 
students previously took the exam in 2002. 

The test results also showed that the overwhelming majority of high 
school seniors have not fully mastered high-school-level math.

At the same time, however, grade-point averages have risen nationwide, 
according to a separate survey by the National Assessment, of the 
transcripts of 26,000 students, which compared them with a study of 
students’ coursework in 1990. 

“There’s a disconnect between what we want and expect our 12th graders to 
know and do, and what our schools are actually delivering through 
instruction in the classroom,” David W. Gordon, the superintendent of 
schools in Sacramento, said at a news conference announcing the results. 

The reports offered several rationales for the disparity between rising 
grade-point averages and tougher coursework on the one hand and stagnant 
reading scores on the other, including “grade inflation, changes in 
grading standards” or the possibility that student grades were being 
increasingly affected by things like classroom participation or extra 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is considered the 
yardstick for academic performance because it is the only test taken all 
across the country. The test of 12th-grade achievement was given to a 
representative sample of 21,000 high school seniors attending 900 public 
and private schools from January to March 2005. 

It showed that the share of 12th-grade students lacking even basic high 
school reading skills ­ meaning they could not, for example, extract data 
about train fares at different times of day from a brochure ­ rose to 27 
percent from 20 percent in 1992. 

The share of students proficient in reading dropped to 35 percent from 40 
percent in 1992. At the same time, the gap between boys and girls grew, 
with girls’ reading skills more than a year ahead those of boys.

In math, only 23 percent of all 12th graders were proficient, but the 
exam has been revamped, so the results could not be compared with those 
from earlier years, officials said. The new test has fewer questions 
requiring arithmetic and more using algebra and geometry. Some 39 percent 
of 12th graders lacked even basic high school math skills. 

These results came about even though the separate study of transcripts 
showed that 12th graders in 2005 averaged 360 more hours of classroom 
instruction during their high school years than students had in 1990. 

Their overall grade-point average was 2.98 ­ just shy of a B. That was one-
third of a letter grade higher than in 1990. The share of students taking 
a standard curriculum or better, intended to prepare them for college, 
jumped to 68 percent from 40 percent. 

In math, girls had higher grades than boys, and closed the achievement 
gap, scoring about as well as boys did on the national assessment. Boys 
who had taken advanced math and science courses, however, scored higher 
than girls who had also taken such courses.

The Bush administration, which has been pressing to expand testing in 
high school under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, seized 
upon the results as proof that high schools were not measuring up.

“The consensus for strengthening our high schools has never been 
stronger,” Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, said in a 
statement released in advance of the report. “Schools must prepare 
students to succeed in college and the 21st-century work force.”

Just how students can be getting better grades in classes that are 
supposedly more challenging yet lag in reading may become clearer in the 
future. Mark Schneider, the commissioner of the National Center for 
Education Statistics, the branch of the Education Department that 
administers the exams, had also collected a warehouse full of course 
descriptions, reading lists and textbooks to investigate the actual 
content of classes students are taking. 

The Education Trust, a nonprofit group representing urban schools, 
attributed the disparity to a kind of academic false advertising, saying 
that schools may seem to offer the same courses to all students, but that 
the content of those courses is sometimes less demanding for poor and 
minority children.

For example, the group found, a ninth-grade English teacher at one school 
assigned students a two- to three-page essay comparing the themes of 
Homer’s “Odyssey” to those in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” At 
the same school, assignments in another class covering the same material 
were considerably less demanding. There, students broke up into three 
clusters, with one designing a brochure for “Odyssey Cruises,” another 
drawing pictures and the third making up a crossword using characters 
from the “Odyssey.” 

“Just slapping new names on courses with weak curriculum and ill-prepared 
teachers won’t boost achievement,” Kati Haycock, the Education Trust’s 
president, said. 

(C)  <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/23/education/23tests.html>

Cheers, people
Stephen Loosley
Victoria, Australia

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