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— Arkansas students scored close to the national average in mathematics on a nationwide standardized test.

A randomly chosen group of about 10,000 fourth and eighth graders in Arkansas took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The national average for fourth graders was a score of 240 out of 500. Arkansas fourth graders scored 238. The national average for eighth graders was 283 and those in Arkansas scored 276.

Students take a bewildering assortment of standardized tests every year for a variety of different purposes. Some are used to measure the performance of the school district, and a district can be sanctioned by the state if its students repeatedly do poorly without any sign of improvement.

The NAEP test is an excellent gauge of academic performance because it is the only standardized test that is administered in all 50 states. Therefore it is a good measure of how well Arkansas is performing academically, compared to the rest of the country. It is commonly known as the Nation's Report Card.

Over the past several years the national average on the math test has been slowly but steadily improving, while Arkansas scores have shown more rapid improvement. In 1992 Arkansas fourth graders scored well below the national average, but since then they have consistently gained on their counterparts nationwide.

Scores for last year's NAEP tests of reading, writing and science have not been released. In past years they have been similar to our mathscores, in that our students perform slightly below the national average.

One encouraging factor is that Arkansas, as a matter of policy, allows almost all fourth and eighth graders to take the test. Most other states exclude up to 6 percent of students because they require special services or have special needs, and have to have help when they take the test. When states exclude those students, their average scores will be higher.

Arkansas scores are pushed down because we allow just about everybody to take the test. The benefit to Arkansas is that we obtain more thorough and conclusive data from our test scores.

Students from poor families get free or reduced-price lunches, and test scores were broken down to indicate the effects of poverty on performance. Fourth graders from poor families scored 22 points lower, on average, than students from middle and upper income families. The effects of poverty on academic achievement are even starker for eighth graders, who scored 26 points lower on the math test, on average.

Highway Projects

Arkansas will get an estimated $350 million in grants in the federal stimulus package for work on highways and bridges. The state Highway Commission last week awarded seven additional contracts for projects that will be partially paid for with stimulus money. That brings to 76 the total number of projects to be funded in part with federal stimulus money.

State highway officials are under a March deadline to obligate all the federal stimulus money. The stimulus money will help pay for 112 projects that will improve 247 miles of highway. The funding will also be used to replace a bridge, install traffic signals and improve safety at intersections and interchanges.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK @ or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/21/2009

Print Headline: Capitol Reports: Student performance in Arkansas

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