Colorado’s middle school students fell short on the test known as “the nation’s report card,” according to data released today on the 2013 tests.

Fourth graders posted statistically significant increases in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an assessment given to fourth- and eighth-graders across the country every two years.

States' performance on fourth (top) and eighth (bottom) reading assessments. (Image courtesy of NAEP)
States’ performance on fourth (top) and eighth (grade) reading assessments. (Image courtesy of NAEP)

Colorado students’ scores on eighth grade math dipped by two points, compared with 2011. By contrast, the national average was a one point increase. Eighth grade reading scores showed no change in Colorado, compared with a national average increase of two points.

States historically see gains at the fourth grade level, said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. Eighth grade gains are more difficult, a trend maintained by Colorado’s scores but bucked by the nation at large. Eighth grade reading posted the highest gains nation-wide, with states moving on average two points. California showed the most growth, with students scoring on average seven points better than in 2011.

Until the implementation of Common Core State Standards, NAEP has been the only way to compare student performance across states with vastly different standards for their own tests. But even as more states align their tests to common standards, Buckley argued that the tests will remain relevant, given how many variations remain and the importance of NAEP’s long-term data collection.

“If everything is changing, we’re going to be the only time series people can use to make comparisons,” Buckley said.

Across the country, Tennessee, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia saw the biggest across-the-board gains, though scores for Washington, D.C. especially, still rank among the nation’s lowest. Tennessee and D.C. saw unusually dramatic gains across both grades and subjects.

“You’d like to see some steady improvement across subjects, though generally seeing an increase in all subject-grade combinations is very rare,” said Buckley.

“It’s hard to move the needle on all four grades and subjects unless you’re really doing something,” Buckley said.

Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, said the overall picture remained discouraging, with scores across the country improving less quickly than they have in the past.

“The gains since 2009 have been basically half the pace that they were 2000 to 2009,” he said.

Some of the national results bucked recent trends. In the past, much of the score increases have been attributed to the lowest-performing students catching up with their peers. This year, Buckley noted that a big chunk of states’ gains came from high-performing students pulling further ahead.

Today’s data breaks down by state but district-level results will come out in December. As for Colorado, here’s a more detailed breakdown of the scores:

  • Achievement gap: Colorado’s achievement gap between white and Hispanic students remains larger than the national average in both levels of math testing. However, it did narrow significantly on fourth grade reading. Between white and black students, the gap on eighth grade reading, which grew this year, is also wider than the national average.
  • Reading performance: 40 percent of Colorado students scored proficient or better on reading in both fourth and eighth grades. That’s nearly half the percent of students who scored proficient or better, according to the state’s testing (for third through tenth graders, 73 percent scored proficient or better).
  • Math performance: 50 percent of fourth graders and 42 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or better the NAEP in math. That’s compared with 72 percent of third through tenth graders who score proficient or better on the state’s testing.

For more details on Colorado and the nation’s performance, click here.