Washington, U.S. 4th-Graders Not “Proficient” In Math Or Reading

Data Viz: Washington, U.S. 4th-Graders Not
Key federal data show neither Washington nor U.S. 4th-graders are, on average, proficient in math or reading. Strengthened early learning programs are one piece of the solution. Photo: del.wa.gov.

Neither Washington state nor U.S. 4th-graders on the whole are proficient in math or reading according to five-year average scores in the long-established, widely-used National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. The state-by-state results are shown below in a Lens interactive data visualization.

The NAEP test scales for reading and math go from zero to 500.

The minimum standard for being “proficient” in math is a score of 249 or higher. A lower level of performance is “basic,” from 214 to 248. Washington 4th-graders earn an average of 244 in math over a five-year period, while the U.S. average is 240. Among 50 states, Washington ranked 14th best in 4th grade average NAEP math scores over the five measurement years.

According to NAEP, proficiency in math for 4th-graders means in part that they are “able to use whole numbers to estimate, compute, and determine whether results are reasonable. They should have a conceptual understanding of fractions and decimals; be able to solve real-world problems in all NAEP content areas; and use four-function calculators, rulers, and geometric shapes appropriately.”

For reading, the 4th grade proficiency line is a score of 238 or higher, and the “basic” level is 208 to 237. Washington’s five-year average is 223, versus 220 for the U.S. as a whole. Washington ranked 23rd best in 4th grade average NAEP reading scores over the five measurement years.

NAEP says that in reading, 4th-graders “performing at the Proficient level should be able to integrate and interpret texts and apply their understanding of the text to draw conclusions and make evaluations.”

Washington State Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41), chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said NAEP data is “the best indicator we currently have” for overall state and national level proficiency in core subjects. However, he stressed that statewide or national averages only tell a part of the story because demographic breakdowns of data on core subject proficiency, drop-out rates and related indicators consistently show that white and Asian students, and suburban school districts, perform better than more urban and rural districts, and black, Hispanic and Native-American students.

“Kids are not starting school at the same level” especially regarding vocabulary, and their proficiency gap tends to widen between first and third grades, and thereafter unless smart programmatic interventions occur, Litzow said. He added that the state is taking steps to address the acheivement, or opportunity gap, through “an expanded, high-quality early learning program.” In addition to intensified early learning, after-school and summer programs are crucial in helping at-risk students gain proficiency in core subjects, he said.

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