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US students lag behind in reading, math

Washington - Two-thirds of US fourth-graders read below their grade level, and the weakest ones are falling further behind, according to the Education Department's reading "Report Card."

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading study found only 32 percent of fourth-graders read at or above the level of proficiency set by educators. The report noted fourth-graders overall showed small improvements in reading since 1992, when 29 percent read at grade level. Asian students, however, improved dramatically, rising from a 25 percent proficiency level to 46 percent in 2000. To help increase reading abilities, President Bush's "Reading First" initiative plans to spend $5 billion over five years to teach early reading skills in the Head Start programs and train elementary teachers in research-based instruction methods.

Another study released last week showed US eighth-graders scored barely above average in math and science compared with the rest of the world and lagged far behind Asian nations.

Connecticut eighth-graders, however, scored above average, finishing in the top 30 of a field of 65 countries, states, and individual school districts. The tests were given voluntarily in 1999 in 38 countries, 13 states, and 14 school districts. Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan were among the top in math, while Hungary, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea had the top science students.

Confederate clothes cause uproar

Richmond hill, Ga. - The fight over Southern heritage has moved to the schoolhouse. Seven students were suspended for a day at Richmond Hill Middle School after wearing a Confederate flag on their shirts.

Parents and students from Richmond Hill wore Confederate shirts and bandannas to a recent school board meeting to protest the suspensions. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the school, saying it could ban shirts that were offensive, even if they didn't cause a serious disruption.

In another incident in Cairo, Ga., rebel flag-waving parents picketed the school board after 50 students at Cairo High School and a middle school were told to change their Confederate shirts. Cairo High principal Wayne Tootle said the actions do not stem from political correctness but from school shootings that have taught administrators to be wary of anything that might lead to violence.

In recent years, children wearing Confederate symbols, even as backpack patches, have been punished in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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