Mass. 4th, 8th Graders Rank First In Reading

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For the third year in a row, Massachusetts fourth and eighth graders have scored highest in the nation in a reading assessment test. But state education officials are still troubled by flat scores and a persistent achievement gap.

The Patrick administration said Wednesday the state had tied for first place with several other New England states in results (PDF) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading exam. The NAEP tests students' ability to interpret, evaluate and recall information.

Out of 500 possible points, Massachusetts fourth graders scored an average of 234 on the exam, and eighth graders scored an average of 274, a respective 14- and 12- point advantage over the national average.

While Massachusetts educators are being praised for those numbers, state education officials are quick to point out that there is still room for improvement.

"While we should celebrate these strong results compared to other states, our results have been flat for the past five or six years," said Mitchell Chester, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education. "If we go back to a decade ago, we're clearly performing better…, but in the last five or six years… we just have not seen improvement."

Fourth-grade reading exams fell two points since 2007, from 236 to 234. Eighth-grade scores rose one point over the same time period, from 273 to 274.

Significant achievement gaps also persist between students. There are "gaps based on race, based on ethnicity, based on income background, as well as gaps that are based on gender so that females are scoring stronger than males," Chester said.

In the 2009 exams, 47 percent and 43 percent of fourth and eighth graders earned a score of "proficient" or above in the reading exam, but only about 20 percent of African-Americans and Latinos achieved the same score. White and Asian students consistently scored at or above 50 percent.

"We just have too many of our students not achieving at high levels." Chester said.

The NAEP assessment is administered once every two years. The results of the state's science exam will be released this summer.

This program aired on March 24, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.