STUDENTS make slow progress on math, test scores show; only one-fourth rated proficient or better

Thursday, August 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Only one in four of the nation's fourth- and eighth-graders has moved beyond the basics in math, according to a new national test.

Education officials acknowledged there's a lot more work to be done, even though student performance has improved over the past eight years.

``We're quite proud of the progress we've made in math, but I don't think we can celebrate,'' said Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The results of the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card, found that most students had trouble on a test involving measurement, geometry and algebra, as well as questions requiring them to think their way through statistics.

The results, released Thursday, showed that 25 percent of public-school fourth-graders performed at or above the proficient level in 2000. In 1992, 17 percent did.

Eighth-graders' performance increased as well, rising to 26 percent from 20 percent in 1992.

The figures in both grades rose about one point when private-school students' scores were added.

Debra Paulson, an eighth-grade math teacher in El Paso, Texas, and a member of the board that develops the test, said the results show that states, such as Texas and Indiana, where teachers increasingly focus on basic skills, perform the best.

President Bush, meeting with lawmakers who are negotiating his education plan, said of the report: ``It is a strong message to the advocates of reform who sit here in the Oval Office, a strong message for the members who doubt whether or not accountability is important, that accountability is crucial for reform.''

American students have consistently performed at lower levels in math than their counterparts in Asia and elsewhere. Calling the achievement gap unacceptable, U.S. education officials have long searched for ways to close it.

Students judged proficient are those who show solid academic performance on challenging problems, are able to think them through and apply their knowledge to word problems. Students working at the lower basic level have only partially mastered material and skills needed for math work at their grade levels.

The assessment test is administered every four years to more than 113,000 students. Currently, 40 states participate.

Many officials said the most troubling aspect of the results are that white students continue to outperform minorities. In the 2000 results, white eighth-graders accounted for 87 percent of the highest-scoring students, while black and Hispanic students accounted for only 2 and 3 percent, respectively. Blacks account for 17 percent of total students, while Hispanics make up 16 percent of the student population.

Likewise, low-income students accounted for only 4 percent of the highest scorers. Similar results were reported for fourth-graders.

The results also showed that:

_Only 17 percent of high school seniors scored proficient or better in 2000, a decline from 1996. Researchers tend to be more cautious about interpreting the 12th-grade data, since older students may not take the test as seriously as younger ones.

_Students who used calculators every day had lower scores in fourth grade, but by eighth grade and beyond they were the highest scorers;

_At each grade, the percentage of pupils who reported they have computers available at all times in classrooms grew by at least 20 percent over 1996, but pupils who use computers didn't necessarily have higher math scores.

_Students whose teachers reported being better prepared or who were certified to teach their subjects had higher scores.

_Fourth-graders who spent only 15 to 30 minutes on homework each day scored higher than pupils who spent more time on homework, while 12th-graders who spent only 15 to 30 minutes on homework scored nearly as well as those who spent an hour or more.

NAEP reading scores, released last April, showed that 32 percent of fourth-graders read proficiently or better, up slightly from 1992, when 29 percent were proficient.