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State's 8th-Graders Tie For Writing Honors

'Nation's Report Card' Shows Connecticut, New Jersey Lead, Though Racial Gaps Remain

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer

April 04, 2008

Connecticut eighth-graders were tied for first in the nation in writing performance on a test known as the Nation's Report Card, according to results released Thursday.

State students' overall performance also marked an improvement since 2002, the last time the eighth-grade writing test was administered. Still, wide gaps along racial and economic lines persisted, a dynamic reflected in nearly all indicators meant to provide a snapshot of Connecticut's schools.

Although New Jersey's average score was slightly higher than Connecticut's, the report's analysis of the overall results found the two states in a virtual tie.

The test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is the only standardized test administered nationwide and is often used as a gauge of how states are performing. Congress requires states to test students on the exam's math and reading portions every two years, while the writing test, administered less frequently, is voluntary. Last year, all but five states participated.

In Connecticut, 2,500 students from about 100 schools, selected by the U.S. Department of Education to be a representative sample of the state, took the exam.

State education officials said they were pleased with Connecticut's top overall ranking but are still concerned about the achievement gaps. Connecticut has long included writing in its standardized assessments, and has continued to do so even though the federal No Child Left Behind Act does not require any writing exams.

"Our teachers are teaching writing every day, and it's paying off," state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.

The gaps in student achievement along racial and economic lines declined between 2002 and 2007, but not enough to be statistically significant.

Overall, 53 percent of the students tested scored at or above the "proficient" level on the exam. Among white students, 63 percent reached that level, compared with 52 percent of Asian students, 27 percent of black students, and 27 percent of Hispanic students.

Among students eligible for free and reduced price lunches an indicator of poverty 28 percent scored at or above proficient, compared with 62 percent of non-eligible students.

Only 18 percent of students with disabilities and 4 percent of students for whom English is not a first language scored at or above proficient.

Female students outperformed their male counterparts by a significant margin. While 63 percent of female students scored at or above proficient, only 42 percent of male students did. Those figures are consistent with the gap shown on the state's standardized test, the Connecticut Mastery Test.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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