D.C. Students' Reading Proficiency Drops on Tests; Virginia 4th-, 8th-Graders Also Slip; Maryland Reports Increase

Article excerpt

Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Most children in D.C. public schools continue to be among the worst readers in the nation, scoring even lower than they did a year ago, according to a report released yesterday.

Only 11 percent of D.C. fourth-graders and just 10 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading - meaning that they are literate enough to "read to learn" and deal with their most challenging schoolwork in further grades, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, also called "The Nation's Report Card."

The latest NAEP reading scores for America's schoolchildren showed no overall national improvement over last year.

The figures show that 30 percent of the nation's fourth- and eighth-graders performed "at or above the proficient level" in reading in 2003, the same level as last year for fourth-graders and a one-point drop for eighth-graders. In mathematics, the nation's fourth-graders on average showed a nine-point jump in "at or above the proficient level" and eighth-graders a two-point rise.

Even Virginia fourth- and eighth-graders, whose reading ability has bested the national average for many decades, slipped a few points on the latest round of NAEP tests.

Maryland fourth-graders broke away with a two-point increase in their average reading score and an 11-point increase in mathematics marks that exceeded the national 10-point upswing in math improvement, lauded yesterday by U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige as "stellar."

"The fact that gains in 2002 were sustained, that's good," said Charles E. Smith, NAEP's executive director.

Although 70 percent of white fourth-graders in D.C. schools are "at or above proficient" in reading, just 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics tested proficient in fourth grade, according to the NAEP report.

Just 8 percent of black D.C. eighth-graders and 11 percent of Hispanics can read proficiently as they get ready to enter high school.

More than a third of black D.C. fourth-graders and a fourth of Hispanics are "below basic" in reading, and almost the same proportion are still below basic in eighth grade. …