WASHINGTON — Kids are making strides in reading and math, though progress in math seems stalled among high school students, according to a federal report that tracked test scores going back to the 1970s.
The scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the benchmark of how students perform across the country. The report measured children's scores in 2008 against long-term trends.
It offered a glimmer of hope for high school kids. Their reading scores improved since 2004, the last time results were issued. In fact, every age group — 9, 13 and 17 — made gains over 2004. In math, scores improved for younger children since 2004, but scores for 17 year olds remained flat.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was pleased but not satisfied with the results. "It's a step in the right direction," he said. "Obviously, we have a lot of hard work ahead. But it's really good to see the improvement."
Results were in line with long-term trends, said Darvin Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, the bipartisan panel that oversees the test.
Over time, schools have done rather well with elementary school kids, better with middle school kids and stalled with high school kids, Winick said. The report said 17 year olds did no better at reading and math in 2008 than they did in the early 1970s.
The biggest gains came from low-achieving students. That is probably not an accident — the federal No Child Left Behind law and similar state laws have focused on improving the performance of minority and poor children, who lag behind their white classmates on standardized tests.
"The big pressure for the last six, eight years in this country has been on bringing the lower-performing students up," Winick said in an interview. "And what this long-term trend says is, generally, that's what's happening."
Black students in all age groups have made greater gains over time than white students in reading and math. Hispanic kids have made greater gains than white kids in math, but for them, reading was a mixed bag: Among 9-year-old Hispanic students, reading scores were the highest in 2008. Yet there was no significant change for 13- and 17-year-old Hispanic students.
The long-term trend report issued Tuesday was based on a nationally representative sample of more than 26,000 public and private school students. It tracks student progress in reading since 1971 and in math since 1973.