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Regional test scores impressive

The nation's math report card released Thursday shows promise, with more than seven in 10 fourth-graders and almost as many eighth-graders now achieving at basic level or better.

The nation's math report card released Thursday shows promise, with more than seven in 10 fourth-graders and almost as many eighth-graders now achieving at basic level or better.

But enthusiasm over rising test scores is tempered by another figure: More than two-thirds of the students still can't do math at the level they should, based on federal standards.

The national results show that Minnesota's eighth-graders outperformed everyone in the country last year in math, and the state's fourth-graders were barely edged out for the top spot.

"Minnesota is in a class by itself," said Cheri Pierson Yecke, state education chief. "This is phenomenal news."

North Dakota fourth- and eighth-graders scored near the top in the nationwide test of math and reading skills, which was typical for North Dakota students in the first 20 years


of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, one education official says.

The test -- nicknamed the Nation's Report Card -- is the foremost apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement among the states. The 2003 test results were watched even closer because the data is considered more complete than in previous years. This year, the federal government threatened to crack down on states and schools that tried to get out of administering the exam.

Not every student in every state takes it, and test sites are picked at random.

Minnesota's average eighth-grade math score of 291 on a scale of 500 far surpassed the national average of 276.

In fourth-grade, the 242 average score exceeded a national average of 234. Minnesota's average matched that of Kansas, Massachusetts, Vermont and North Carolina. Only New Hampshire students did better, at 243.

The math news was tempered some by a more middle-of-the-pack performance in reading.

Minnesota fourth-graders posted a 223 average score, compared with a 216 national average. Nine states did better and four scored the same. The state's eighth-graders had a 242 average score, which was above the 234 national average but below that of eight states.

In North Dakota, scores have been somewhat lower since 1990, said Dale Patrick, the state's NAEP testing coordinator. "It's nice to be able to see a turnaround, especially when we've fallen behind."


Among eighth-graders, only one other state had better scores in math, and only two other states fared better in reading. North Dakota's average score in math was 287, compared to nationwide mark of 276, and its average score in reading was 270, compared to 261 for all states.

The tests were administered to students in 53 jurisdictions.

"I'm very pleased with the scores, it's a tribute to our teachers in North Dakota," Patrick said.

Patrick said he also is happy with the fourth-grade scores, which were higher than average. The average score in math was 238, compared to the overall mark of 238, and the average score in reading was 222, better than the 216 showing for all states.

In reading, the national performance of students in grades four and eight largely held steady over the past year, continuing a trend in which math gains have been more pervasive.

Nationwide, 77 percent of fourth-graders reached at least a basic level in math, meaning they had a partial mastery of skills needed for solid academic work. That's up from 65 percent three years ago and 50 percent in 1990. Among eighth-graders, 68 percent performed at basic level or better in math, up from

63 percent in 2000 and 52 percent in 1990.

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