US Kids Do Better at Math, But Rich Outscore Poor

EFFORTS to improve the mathematics skills of American students show some evidence of paying off, according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report released Jan. 12 by the United States Department of Education.

Between 1990 and 1992, the average American student scored better on math evaluations. But the performance of black and Hispanic students improved only in Grade 12.

The results come from a national sample of 26,000 students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. The students represent 1,500 public and private schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia.

"This is clearly good news," says outgoing Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. He credits "the hard work of the math teachers of America" and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which has set stringent achievement standards.

However, Cynthia Brown, acting executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, says, "The gains appear to be almost entirely from advantaged student groups and high-performing schools. The nation is in danger of losing the gap-closing progress disadvantaged students have been making...."

In both 1990 and 1992, the average proficiency of black 12th-graders was about the same as that of white eighth-graders. And Hispanic 12th-graders performed at the same level as Asian eighth-graders.

Scores increased for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, with a greater percentage overall reaching the "basic" level of achievement, which is defined as "partial mastery" of fundamental skills. Yet nearly 40 percent still failed to reach that level.

Performance decreased among low-income, urban eighth-graders. Few of these students attained the "advanced" level, which represents performance beyond the student's grade. In all grades, only 2 to 4 percent of students attained this highest level.

Both male and female students improved their math performance between 1990 and 1992. But boys in Grades 4 and 12 still scored higher than girls.

While celebrating the progress shown in this report, Mr. Alexander warns that "it is clearly not good enough for the children of this country to live, work, and compete with children around the world."

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