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State's reading, math scores for 4th, 8th grades below average

From Staff and Wire Reports

Fourth- and eighth-grade students in Georgia lag slightly behind the national average on reading and math scores, according to a test considered the best state-to-state measure of classroom progress.

In all four categories, Georgia's ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was clustered with a group of states and other jurisdictions near ? but not at ? the bottom.

For example, Georgia's eighth-grade reading scores were higher than those in seven other jurisdictions, about the same as 10 others and lower than 35.

The test uses a random sampling of students, only testing a handful from a county, Ray Blakely, the assessment coordinator for Clayton County schools, said.

"It's a good measure, and the samples are well done, so it does give us good information," he said, but added that the scores say little about the county.

Only about 30 students from two or three schools in the county took the test last year, Blakely said. There are more than 50,000 students in the county's school system.

"There's not enough data to give anything useful at the system level," he said."

The scores, released Thursday, remained roughly the same as the last time Georgia students took the tests in all but one category ? fourth-grade math scores improved.

Still, the state's ranking didn't satisfy state education and political leaders, including Gov. Sonny Perdue.

"The governor feels that while Georgia did mirror the national trends, that it's still not a good enough performance," said Perdue spokeswoman Loretta Lepore. "The children here can do better than that."

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as "the nation's report card," is considered one of the most accurate ways to compare academic progress from state to state.

Since 1969, assessments have been conducted periodically in reading, math, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography and the arts.

The scores are particularly significant this year because, for the first time, all 50 states were required to participate.

The scores will be the "baseline" numbers for the federal No Child Left Behind law, which demands that all states improve students' performance.

The percentage of eighth grade students scoring at or above the norm on the reading and math tests stayed roughly the same as the last time Georgia students took the tests.

Fourth graders also performed largely the same on reading tests, but showed significant improvement on math scores.

Twenty-seven percent of Georgia fourth graders tested in 2003 performed at or above the test's "proficient" level, compared to 17 percent in 2000 ? the last time the test was given at that grade level.

The average math score for fourth graders was 230 out of 500, compared to 217 in 2000.

While ranking in the bottom third of the 53 jurisdictions ? including the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools ? Georgia's scores weren't far behind national averages.

The state's eighth-grade math score of 270 was six points behind the national average of 276 and eight-grade reading was three points behind the national average ? 258 to 261.

Fourth-grade math trailed the national average by four points, 230 compared to 234, and Georgia's fourth-grade reading score of 214 was only two points behind the national average of 216.

Lepore said Perdue has no existing plan to improve Georgia's scores on tests like the NAEP, but may have a proposal for lawmakers when the General Assembly convenes in January.

"That's something he's going to assess very carefully in the next couple of months," she said. "He's kind of leaving that door open right now."

Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state's largest teacher organization, said the report is encouraging.

"Educators can take a little bit of pride in the fact that we are moving in the right direction," he said.

( Staff writer Greg Gelpi contributed the local reaction to this Associated Press story).