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High School Seniors Do Well On National Test

Connecticut Students Beat National Average In Math, Reading

November 18, 2010

Connecticut high school seniors scored above the national average in reading and math on a national test conducted to determine whether graduating students are adequately prepared for college and work.

Despite a good performance overall, state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said the results still reveal Connecticut's stubborn achievement gap between white and minority students. He said he would like to see all students perform at a higher level in math.

He said he hoped that the state's new, more rigorous high school standards, passed into law in May, will help boost math achievement.The new curriculum will require students to take four years of math instead of the current three, starting with freshmen entering high school in 2014.

Connecticut was one of 11 states to receive detailed analysis for the first time on the performance of its 12th-graders on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The test, known as the Nation's Report Card, is based on a representative sampling covering about 2,800 seniors last year from 100 schools in Connecticut.

It is a more rigorous test than state tests, such as the Connecticut Mastery Test. This year's test incorporated more higher-level math questions and 40 percent of the reading section focused on nonfiction. For example, students had to read a housing rental agreement and answer questions about it.

Overall, Connecticut did particularly well in reading, scoring an average 292 points on a scale of zero to 500, compared to 287 nationally.

In math, Connecticut students scored an average 156 points on a scale of zero to 300, compared to a national average of 152.

Despite the fact that Connecticut was above average, 71 percent of seniors in Connecticut and 75 percent of seniors nationally were ranked as "below average" or "basic" in math. Basic is defined as "demonstrating partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." More than half ranked at these levels in reading nationally and in Connecticut.

Does all this mean Connecticut students are prepared for college and the workforce? School officials aren't so sure.

"We do score above the national average and that's a good thing," said state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy. "However, when you look at overall scores for Connecticut and the nation, it does cause you to pause and wonder whether we are in fact challenging our students with enough strong content and supporting them to succeed. The jury's out on that."

Test designers said the National Assessment of Educational Progress test is designed to be "aspirational," encouraging students to shoot for a higher level of achievement than the status quo, said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets the policy for the test.

Locally, state results showed found that boys and girls scored about the same in math, while girls outscored boys in reading. They also showed confirmed longstanding achievement gaps between whites and blacks and Latinos. In math, in particular, Latinos trailed 32 points behind whites, worse than the national gap of 23 points.

The test results also provided additional analysis showing, not surprisingly, that students who took higher-level math classes, such as calculus, scored higher on the test, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.

"It means we need to make sure these courses are being provided in inner-city and rural areas where we don't always see higher-level math courses offered," Murphy said.

The test provided further insight into reading skills. Based on information students reported about themselves, the test showed that the more apt the student was to read for pleasure, the higher that student's score. So the more parents encourage their children to make reading part of their lives, whether it means buying them books, magazines or comic books, the bigger a difference it will make on test scores, Murphy said.

Connecticut students performed the best among the 11 states tested in their written answers to questions on the reading portion of the test, perhaps reflecting Connecticut's focus on writing skills for the past 20 years, Murphy said.

Besides Connecticut, the other states were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota and West Virginia.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, test is the only nationally representative measure of what American students know and can do. The test is generally more rigorous than the mastery tests offered by states. The test's governing board intends to use the 12th-grade test results to do more detailed resarech into how the well America's students are prepared for college and the workforce.

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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