WASHINGTON -- The nation's fourth- and eighth-grade students have made slow, steady progress in math over the past decade, but only one in four is doing math proficiently, a national test found.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as "the nation's report card," shows that 25 percent of public-school fourth-graders performed at or above the "proficient" level in 2000. In 1992, 17 percent did.
Fourth-graders' average scores in the 500-point test were 226 in 2000. That is four points higher than in 1996 and eight points higher than in 1992.
The percentage of public-school eighth-graders doing math proficiently rose to 26 percent from 20 percent in 1992. Eighth-graders' average scores rose from 265 to 274.
The figures in both grades rose about one point when private-school students' scores were added.
Twelfth-graders in both public and private schools made gains from 1990 to 1996, the scores showed, but their average score declined three points in 2000. About 17 percent of 12th graders scored proficient or better. Researchers tend to be more cautious about interpreting student performance based on the 12th-grade data, since older students may not take the test as seriously as younger ones.
Students judged proficient are those who show "solid academic performance" on challenging problems, are able to think them through and apply their knowledge to word problems. Students working at the lower "basic" level have only partially mastered material and skills needed for math work at their grade levels.
The assessment test is administered every four years to more than 113,000 students. Currently, 40 states participate.
The results released Thursday also showed that:
--Students who used calculators every day had lower scores in fourth grade, but by eighth grade they were the highest scorers; they continued to be the highest scorers in 12th grade.
--At each grade, the percentage of pupils who reported they have computers available "at all times in classrooms" grew by at least 20 percent over 1996.
--Students whose teachers reported being better prepared or who were certified to teach their subjects had higher scores.
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