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Bay State 12th-graders top nation in test results

By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2010

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High school seniors in Massachusetts are ranked highest in the nation in reading and math ability, according to new test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The first state-specific results for Grade 12 in 2009 showed that Massachusetts students had the highest scaled score in both the reading and math exams. The Bay State was one of 11 states to participate in the pilot program for states to receive state-specific Grade 12 results.

In a ceremony at Medford High School, Governor Deval Patrick, surrounded by state education officials and hundreds of students, heralded the results as proof of the state’s position as a leader in public education.

“I am proud of the performance of our students, and today’s announcement reaffirms our position as a national leader in education,’’ Patrick said. “We will continue on this path of success and increase our efforts to ensure all students are prepared for the rigors of college and a future in the workforce.’’

More than 6,000 students from 94 Massachusetts high schools participated in the exams, said Jonathan Palumbo, spokesman for the Executive Office of Education.

According to figures released by the governor’s office, 46 percent of Massachusetts students scored proficient or higher in reading, compared with 37 percent nationally. In mathematics, 36 percent scored proficient or higher in test results, compared with 25 percent for the country.

The national results showed significant gaps in reading and math among various groups. While 50 percent of white students and 55 percent of Asian students scored proficient or higher in reading, only 21 percent of African-American and Hispanic students did so. Twenty-three percent of low-income students of all races had proficient scores.

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, praised the results, but cautioned that there was still much more work to be done.

“We are very proud that our students continue to score right at the top,’’ Chester said. “At the same time, I am concerned that by Grade 12, not enough students are reaching the proficiency bar. We will track these results closely . . . to gauge improvements in student achievement and to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses.’’

Nationwide, slight improvement was made by Grade 12 students. The 12th-graders scored two points higher in reading and three points higher in mathematics than in similar test results conducted in 2005, although average reading scores were lower than in 1992, according to a statement from the National Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.