The Nation’s Report Card, released on Oct. 14, shows that only 38 percent of Illinois fourth-graders and 33 percent of its eighth-graders performed at a “proficient” level in mathematics on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

On a subgroup basis, 44 percent of Illinois white eighth-graders performed at the “proficient” level; 9 percent of Illinois black eighth-graders and 17 percent of Illinois Hispanic eighth-graders performed at the “proficient” level.

The NAEP is given to a sampling of fourth- and eighth- graders every two years in all 50 states as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Representative samples of about 165,000 students at each grade level were given the NAEP in 2009. The results are reported in the Nation’s Report Card under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education.

For reporting purposes, the NAEP uses four achievement levels: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The “proficient” level has been set as the goal for student performance by the National Assessment Governing Board, said Stuart Kerachsky, Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

“None of us should be satisfied [with the results],” said Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, in a statement. “We need reforms that will accelerate student achievement. Our students need to graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the workplace.”

 The results of the federal tests renewed criticism across the country that state exams have become too easy. Many states have shown progress on their state exams, which far exceeds that shown on the NAEPs.

Mr. Duncan previously said in an interview reported by Molly Peterson and Flynn McRoberts in Bloomberg News that the No Child Left Behind law has led many states, including Illinois, to “dumb down” tests so schools will meet the program’s federal benchmarks. States are “basically lying to children and families,” he is quoted as saying in the interview.

The results of students on the NAEP tests once again highlight the difference between the nation’s standards and the standards of Illinois on the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISATs).

While 33% of Illinois eighth-graders met or exceeded the proficient level in math on the 2009 NAEP tests, 82 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded standards in math on the 2009 ISATs.

The dichotomy between the two tests is also evident if trends are examined. Between 2003 and 2009, the percentage of Illinois students who ranked proficient on the NAEPs increased from 29 percent to 33 percent. On the ISATs the increase was from 53 to 82 percent.

The Nation’s Report Card says the average score of Illinois eighth-graders on the 2009 NAEPs was “lower than those in 23 states/jurisdictions, higher than those in 15 states/jurisdictions, [and] not significantly different from those in 13 states/jurisdictions.”

NAEP also assessed reading and science in 2009. Reports detailing the results of those tests will be issued in 2010, said Mr. Kerachsky.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...