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American schools' 'mixed' report card: 5 takeaways
New standardized test results show math scores are on the rise. But we're still not exactly a nation of young scholars
National test scores are in and math scores improved slightly, while reading scores plateaued.
National test scores are in and math scores improved slightly, while reading scores plateaued.
Randy Faris/Corbis
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he results are in. The National Assessment of Education Progress, a.k.a. "The Nation's Report Card," is derived from a series of standardized math and reading tests administered by the feds. The tests, given earlier this year to a representative national sample of about 422,000 fourth-graders and 343,000 eighth-graders, have been conducted every two years since the early 90s. 2011's "mixed" results don't exactly inspire confidence. "The modest increases in… scores are reason for concern as much as optimism," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "It's clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation's children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century." Here, five takeaways from the test results:

1. Math scores improved... barely
First, the good news. Both the eighth- and fourth-graders scored, on average, one point higher in math in 2011 than they did in 2009. The tests are graded on a 500-point scale. But over the long haul, math scores are more than 20 points higher than they were in 1990, when the math test was first administered.

2. Reading scores flatlined
Average reading scores for fourth-graders were unchanged from 2009, but up one point for eighth-graders. Since 1992, when the reading test was first administered, average scores for fourth-graders have gone up just four points, while eighth-graders have gone up five points.

3. Most students still lag behind
Despite the point-score gains, the majority of students still aren't reaching the "proficient" level. Roughly one-third of eighth-graders were proficient in reading and math. Just over a third of fourth-graders were proficient in reading, while 40 percent achieved that level in math. The rest fell short.

4. The achievement gap persists
There was no improvement in the achievement gap between black and white students in either subject at either grade level. But the gap between Hispanic and white eighth-graders did improve, albeit slightly. Still, "there are two positive stories" here, says the president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, Jack Jennings. "The hidden story in just looking at the achievement gap is that you can have both groups going up and not show a narrowing of the gap." And the country's two largest minority groups are on "an upward trajectory."

5. But Asian students shined
For the first time ever, Asian students were in their own category this year. They received the highest score of any ethnic group.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, NAGB, Washington Post (2)

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