NC Fourth Graders Score Higher in Reading, Eighth Graders Falter

Oct 29, 2015

The map above shows changes in eighth grade reading scores from 2013 to 2015. North Carolina was one of few states that lost ground.
Credit National Assessment of Educational Progress

Eighth grade math and reading scores fell in North Carolina, but fourth grade reading scores increased according an assessment known as the Nation's Report Card.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, evaluates fourth and eighth grade performance in reading and math every two years. This year's report showed country-wide declines since 2013 in all categories except fourth grade reading, which remained flat. It's the first year the country has seen overall declines since NAEP began evaluating student performance in 1990.

North Carolina was one of few states to see an increase in fourth grade reading scores. But the state's eighth grade math and reading scores fell further than those in other states.

Tammy Howard oversees testing with the Department of Public Instruction. She's encouraging parents to look at the big picture.

"It's is important to remember that one year does not make a trend. This is one year," Howard said. "We'll have more information and a deeper conversation once we get the 2017 results."

This map shows change in fourth grade reading scores from 2013 to 2015.
Credit National Assessment of Educational Progress

Howard says it's possible the growth in fourth grade reading scores may be related to "Read to Achieve," a state program that gives more attention to third-graders who aren't reading at grade level. But she urges caution in drawing conclusions.

"Whenever we're looking at increases or decreases, we always have to be careful in trying to think broadly and realize it's hard to isolate one factor," she said.

Fourth grade reading scores increased four points in North Carolina, while the national average change was stagnant at a one-point gain. North Carolina fourth graders are reading four points above the national average. Fourth grade math scores were relatively unchanged, in keeping with the rest of the nation.

Eighth grade reading and math scores each fell around 4 pointsa sharper decline than the national average decrease of two points in both subjects.

This map shows changes in eighth grade math scores from 2013 to 2015.
Credit National Assessment of Educational Progress

Howard says scores sometimes drop after the implementation of new academic standards. North Carolina implemented standards known as Common Core in 2012.

"Student performance on those new content standards may not be where we would like for them to be. But over time typically performance does increase and improve," Howard said.

But Howard again cautions against making assumptions based on one test.

This map shows changes in fourth grade math scores from 2013 to 2015.
Credit National Assessment of Educational Progress

The 2015 NAEP scores also show that North Carolina's black-white achievement gap is still just as big as it was in 2000 in every category except fourth grade reading.

In fourth grade reading, white students scored an average of 22 points higher than black students and 24 points higher than Latino students. In eighth grade reading scores, the gap grew to 27 points between white and black students and fell to 19 points between white and Latino students.

In math, the fourth grade black-white achievement gap was 25 points, and the Latino-white gap was 18 points. By eighth grade the gap grew to 29 points between black and white students and 20 points between Latino and white students.