Connecticut’s high school seniors from last spring’s graduating class scored above average on a nationwide test of reading and mathematics–the first such measure of the state’s 12th-graders against their counterparts across the country.

Overall, America’s 12th-graders have made modest gains in reading and mathematics performance since 2005, according to results released today on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

However, the test also showed that the nation’s black and Hispanic 12th-graders continue to lag behind other groups, including larger than average performance gaps in Connecticut between black and white students in reading and between Hispanic and white students in mathematics.

“Although NAEP results show that Connecticut students overall consistently outperform the national average, there are many improvements that must be made in Connecticut’s secondary schools,” said state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

Connecticut was one of 11 states that volunteered to participate in a pilot test of a system to measure state-by-state results of high school seniors. National tests of 4th– and 8th-graders have been reported previously on a state-by-state basis, but this was the first time any states received scores for 12th-graders.

Among the 11 states receiving scores in reading, Connecticut posted scores roughly equal to those in seven other states and higher than those in Arkansas, Florida and West Virginia.

In math, Connecticut’s scores were similar to those in three of the 10 other states, higher than in four states but lower than in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

The U.S. Department of Education test was given last year to a representative sample of about 52,000 high school seniors in reading and 49,000 seniors in math across the nation. The average score in reading was up slightly since 2005 but down in comparison to results of a reading test given in 1992. In math, scores have improved since 2005.

“The increases are modest, not spectacular,” said Kathi M. King, a mathematics teacher from Maine and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the national test. “We clearly have a long way to go before we can be satisfied with what our 12th graders know and can do in reading and mathematics.”

The results were broken down into four categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.

Among the findings:

  • About 29 percent of Connecticut’s high school seniors scored at or above the proficient level in math, compared with 25 percent nationwide. In reading, 43 percent of the state’s seniors scored at or above the proficient level, compared with a national figure of 37 percent.
  • 22 percent of Connecticut’s 12th-graders scored in the lowest category – below the basic level – in reading, a smaller proportion than the national figure of 27 percent. In math, 31 percent of Connecticut’s seniors scored below basic, compared with 37 percent nationwide.
  • Across the nation, all racial and ethnic groups made gains in mathematics since 2005, but large performance gaps persisted. In Connecticut, Hispanic students scored 132 on a 300-point scale on the math test, compared with 165 for white students. That 33 point gap was significantly larger than the national gap of 23 points. The mathematics gap for the state’s black 12th-graders, however, was similar to the national gap.
  • In reading, Connecticut’s black high school seniors scored 265 on a 500-point scale, 36 points lower than the 301 score for white seniors, a significantly greater margin than the national black-white reading gap of 27 points. The state’s Hispanic-white reading gap was about equal to the national gap.

Nearly half, or 48 percent, of Connecticut’s seniors reported taking advanced mathematics courses of pre-calculus or calculus, compared with a national figure of 42 percent. Of the 11 states reporting results, only Massachusetts, at 54 percent, had a larger proportion of seniors taking those courses.

Not surprisingly, the results showed that students taking high-level courses had better scores. In Connecticut, 38 percent of Asian 12th-graders reported taking calculus, the highest proportion of any ethnic or racial group. They were followed by white students at 21 percent, blacks 9 percent and Hispanics 6 percent.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a major school reform law requiring additional courses in math and science as part of graduation requirements starting with the Class of 2018.

Despite scoring above the national average, only 26 percent of Connecticut’s 12th-graders scored in the proficient category in mathematics, and 3 percent scored at the advanced level – numbers that McQuillan would like to see improve.

“In reviewing our 12th-grade math performance, it is clear that we must do better if we expect our graduates to pursue post-secondary education and careers in [science, technology, engineering and math] areas,” McQuillan said. “This is why we have supported legislation to reform our secondary schools with a greater emphasis on math and science and more support for students to achieve.”

The data also “confirm that the large achievement gaps evident in grades 4 and 8 carry into grade 12,” said McQuillan. “I remain extremely concerned about these unacceptable disparities in achievement among racial and ethnic groups in our state.”

In both reading and mathematics, the state’s white 12th-graders scored above the national average for white students while the state’s black, Hispanic and Asian 12th-graders had scores that were not significantly different than those of the same groups nationwide, according to the report.

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