Reading and math scores are up in Georgia and are near U.S. averages, 2013 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show, but there’s still room for improvement in student understanding of the subject material.
NAEP, frequently referred to as the “nation’s report card,” tests what it calls a representative sample of 4th- and 8th-graders across the country every other year. The reading and math scores of Georgia’s 4th- and 8th-graders were all higher in 2013 than they were in 2011.
Far more Georgia students take the SAT than the 18,000 who participated in NAEP testing earlier this year. But NAEP is viewed by many as a credible national measure of academic progress. NAEP test-takers are randomly selected and — unlike with the SAT — parents don’t pay for expensive prep courses or multiple tests to improve the scores of their children.
Georgia’s 4th-graders got a 2013 math score of 240 on a 0 to 500 scale. The national average score was 241. Georgia’s 4th-grade reading score was 222, one point better than the U.S. score of 221.
The scores of Georgia’s 8th-graders in reading and math were below national averages, but not by much. Eighth-graders in Georgia got a math score of 279 on a scale of 0 to 500, five points below the U.S. score of 284. And the 8th-grade reading score was 265, one point below the U.S. score of 266.
The NAEP scores run counter to the notion that Georgia’s public schools are abysmal and produce students who test near the bottom of national averages.
Georgia Superintendent John Barge was happy to tout the NAEP scores.
“Our student results have been steadily increasing for several years on NAEP and other national tests,” he said. “We have a heavier lift in Georgia because of the high poverty rate among our students. However, we do not consider poverty as an excuse not to be successful, but we realize often times it takes additional resources and different instructional strategies.”
NAEP used the raw, numerical score on its assessment to determine whether test-takers had a below-basic understanding of subject material, a basic level of understanding of it, proficiency in that subject matter, or were at an advanced level.
Based on that measurement, both Georgia students and students as a whole nationally have a lot of ground to cover. More than 60 percent of Georgia’s test-takers had a basic or below-basic understanding of reading and math material. Those percentages were very close to overall U.S. figures.
Eric Hanushek, an education researcher at Stanford University, said Georgia and the U.S. need to play catch-up with the rest of the world.
“Currently, Georgia is about on the level of Greece or a little behind Lithuania,” he said. “These are not countries Georgia would want to be compared to.”
Hanushek said the strict accountability standards that were part of the federal No Child Left Behind education law had been having a positive effect. But many states, including Georgia, have gotten waivers from those standards. Hanushek said academic progress has stalled.
“We should not dismantle accountability after it was showing gains,” he said.
Amanda Wilhelm, a 13-year veteran who teaches 8th-grade math at E.T. Booth Middle School in Cherokee County, said technology has made it tougher for today’s students to grasp some math concepts.
“Every cellphone has a calculator on it,” she said. “You don’t see your parents paying with cash. They use debit cards. You don’t get that practical application of numbers.”
But Wilhelm said teachers, working under the new set of national academic standards called Common Core, are giving students a deeper understanding of academic concepts. That work might take a while to show up on standardized tests, she said.
“It’s about, ‘Is their understanding improving?’” Wilhelm said. “I’m not sure a score will always show that. But we can see that in the classroom.”
Inge Robb, parent of a student in the Fulton County School System, said Georgia policymakers need to make sure poor students have access to quality teachers, and that districts have the resources they need to offer more instructional days. Parents, he said, need to find ways to get more engaged in the education of their children.
“If we do not rectify the basic and foundational needs of our children as a state, we will be challenged to get out of the bottom tier of national educational results,” Robb said.
READING AND MATH SCORES RISE IN GEORGIA
Georgia’s 4th- and 8th-graders participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress earlier this year. The students were tested in math and reading. States were given a raw score of 0 to 500. NAEP used that score to determine what percentage of test-takers had a below-basic understanding of reading and math material, a basic understanding of the material, proficiency in the material or advanced understanding of the material. Here is how Georgia and the U.S. fared:
- U.S. score, 241. Percent basic and below basic: 59; percent proficient and advanced: 42
- Georgia score, 240. Percent basic and below basic: 61; percent proficient and advanced: 39
- U.S. score, 221. Percent basic and below basic: 66; percent proficient and advanced: 34
- Georgia score, 222. Percent basic and below basic: 66; percent proficient and advanced: 34
- U.S. score, 284. Percent basic and below basic: 66; percent proficient and advanced: 34
- Georgia score, 279. Percent basic and below basic: 71; percent proficient and advanced: 29
- U.S. score, 266. Percent basic and below basic: 65; percent proficient and advanced: 35
- Georgia score, 265. Percent basic and below basic: 69; percent proficient and advanced: 32
Note: Percentages don’t always add up to 100 because of rounding.