Texas reading scores improve but still lag behind the national average

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders registered close to national averages in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test scores released Wednesday, results that state Education Commissioner Robert Scott said shows the state's focus on reading has paid off and must be continued.

While Texas' overall results put the two groups of students 34th and 35th among the 52 states and jurisdictions tested, individual groups -- Anglos, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics -- beat the national averages when compared with the same groups. Fourth-grade African-American students in Texas, for example, had the sixth-highest average score in the nation.

The testing is conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. About 12,000 Texas students and 328,000 students nationwide were assessed in the testing also known as "The Nation's Report Card."

"Texas and the nation have focused a great deal of attention and resources on reading improvement over the past decade," Scott said in a statement. "Our state has become much more ethnically and economically diverse during this period, yet we have managed to hold our scores steady."

African-American fourth-graders in Texas had a summary score of 213, nine points higher than the average score for the group nationally. Those in Department of Defense schools, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Delaware were the only ones with higher summary scores.

Scott's statement acknowledged that the state had more to do in reading.

He said the state's recently updated language arts/reading standards, newly implemented college and career readiness standards, and a new testing framework should help. In 2011-12, the state will begin replacing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills with the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.

The STAAR system is expected to be more rigorous and better measure academic growth from year to year, according to the TEA.

Test score gaps

Nationally, the reading results showed no changes in fourth-grade average scores from the last time the test was administered, in 2007. The score was 220.

For eight-graders, there were small gains, with the score increasing from 261 in 2007 to 262 in 2009.

Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy for The Education Trust, said one of most troubling aspects of the results is the failure to narrow gaps between the scores of Anglos and other groups. The Education Trust promotes the closing of such achievement gaps. The stagnation of results at the fourth-grade level is also a problem, Hall said.

She said states need to make sure that students in all schools have well-prepared teachers who have access to the right instructional tools. After all, she said, today's technology has made reading skills essential for success in any area of the work force.

"It used to be that it was possible to leave high school and get a self- and family-supporting job with just basic reading skills," Hall said. "Those jobs no longer exist. It's becoming very clear that even in what's traditionally been considered blue-collar jobs, workers can no longer function without strong reading skills."

TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641