Nowlin noted the percentage of students falling below the “basic” benchmark of knowledge of fourth-grade math has decreased from 50 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2013, indicating long-term progress.
But he also expressed concern about Indiana’s “achievement gap” that shows students most at risk for failure — minority and low-income students — are still lagging behind. The NAEP tests results, for example, show black students averaged a score of more than 20 points less on the fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math tests than white students. The state has made better progress closing the gap between white and Hispanic students, but the difference is still significant.
Nowlin said closing the achievement gap is critical. “This challenge becomes an even greater issue when you consider the changing demographics of our nation,” he said.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a critic of standardized tests, released a statement Thursday acknowledging the NAEP results. “I am encouraged by the gains that Hoosier students showed on these tests, particularly their gains in the fourth grade,” Ritz said. “This is yet another sign of the hard work and dedication exhibited by our educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students every day in our schools.”
Ritz’s predecessor, former state schools chief Tony Bennett, a supporter of standardized tests, released his own statement saying the rise in test scores validate the sweeping education reforms he’d put into place before Ritz defeated him in his race for re-election last November.
“After years of observing stagnant growth, Indiana’s results on ‘the nation’s report card’ validate our long-held belief that given the right policy framework Indiana teachers and students could achieve higher levels of academic achievement,” Bennett said. “I am particularly encouraged by the very dramatic improvement in fourth-grade scores. These students were kindergartners when Indiana’s reform efforts began in earnest.”
The results of NAEP tests, both for the nation and for Indiana students, can be found on the NAEP website at nationsreportcard.gov.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.