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Mass. leads US on math scores

State officials pleased but see ways to improve

By Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / October 15, 2009

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Massachusetts still leads the pack in student test scores on a national mathematics test at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels.

The Bay State led all other states on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics, with average scores of 252 on the fourth-grade test and 299 on the eighth-grade test. The national average was 239 for fourth-graders and 282 for eighth-graders.

The state had also been the leader in the 2007 and 2005 tests at both grade levels. While leading the nation, however, the state’s average test scores in 2009 were essentially unchanged from 2007, the last time the test was administered.

“We’re proud and happy to be leading the nation again,’’ said Education Secretary Paul Reville. “At the same time, we’re concerned that the result is, relatively speaking, flat.’’

State officials are particularly concerned, he said, about persistent and, in some cases even widening, achievement gaps among groups of students.

The gap between white students and their black and Hispanic schoolmates remained unchanged from 2007 to 2009, while achievement gaps widened for students learning English and disabled students, he said.

The test was given to more than 168,000 fourth-graders and 161,000 eighth-graders in public and private schools nationwide. Students’ knowledge and abilities were tested in five areas: number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra, the US Education Department said. The tests are given to a representative sampling of students.

Nationally, gains that had been seen in previous years at the eighth-grade level continued, but the scores were unchanged at the fourth-grade level.

“Today’s results are evidence that we must better equip our schools to improve the knowledge and skills of America’s students in mathematics,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

“Our students have made real gains in math over the past two decades, but for the first time since NAEP’s mathematics test started in 1990, student achievement in fourth grade has not improved,’’ Duncan said.