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NEWS RELEASES 2002-03 :: JUNE 19, 2003


North Carolina's students continued to improve their reading performance and performed above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2002 assessment. Results of the NAEP, often referred to as The Nation's Report Card, were released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

Results were particularly significant at grade four, where North Carolina's students had a nine-point gain while fourth-graders nationally increased by four points. For grade eight, the other grade tested, North Carolina's score increased by three points while eighth graders nationally improved by two points.

"These scores show that we remain on the right track in North Carolina despite tough budget times," said Gov. Mike Easley. "Our investments in education are paying off and we cannot retreat from our commitment to provide educational opportunities to all of our children. NAEP is the standard we use to compare ourselves with other states and these results show that our students are outpacing the nation on gains and are competitive regionally and nationally. We will reach our goals if we stay focused on high standards and accountability and provide our schools with the resources they need."

State Superintendent Mike Ward, who serves as a member of the national governing board that guides NAEP, said teachers, students and communities should be very proud of this performance. "NAEP is an important rigorous measure of what our students know and can do in various academic subject areas. The fact that our students continued to make progress, including significant progress in grade four, is a tribute to the work that is being done to ensure that every child is reading at high levels."

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said the NAEP results and initial results from state tests show that focus is paying off. "The ABCs testing and accountability program and student accountability standards require schools to provide all students with the boost they need to become proficient readers. Reading is such an essential skill for all other learning. We're pleased with these results and expect to see such progress continue."

State officials attribute the gains to the alignment of the English Language Arts curriculum that was adopted in 1999 and training for school staff members in using the curriculum, the hard work by teachers in delivering the curriculum, and the federal Reading Excellence grant that provided $16 million to certain low performing schools.

In making the announcement, state officials said that North Carolina did have high exclusion rates. Twelve percent of North Carolina fourth graders and 9 percent of eighth graders were excluded from participation in NAEP primarily due to the lack of test accommodations that are provided by NAEP. Preliminary studies conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicate the exclusion rate had no significant impact on the validity of the average scale scores reported for the North Carolina results. In fact, NCES said that North Carolina's score change would have been "very minimal."

North Carolina's exclusion rate was particularly high, state officials believe, because the state has been a leader in developing accommodations and alternate assessments for students. NAEP does not provide some of these same accommodations, such as multiple testing sessions, so local school personnel may have decided to exempt certain students whose Individualized Education Program requires accommodations. This decision is made by local school personnel. The latest scores reflect that more North Carolina students are meeting NAEP's high proficiency standards. In grade four, the percentage of North Carolina's students' performing at or above proficient was 32 percent in 2002, up from 27 percent in 1998. Thirty-two percent of our state's eighth graders also performed at or above proficient, up from 30 percent in 1998.

In grade four, North Carolina's students' scores increased from 213 in 1998 to 222 in 2002. Fourth-graders nationally increased from 213 in 1998 to 217 in 2002. Eighth graders in our state improved their average score from 262 in 1998 to 265 in 2002. Eighth graders nationally improved from 261 in 1998 to 263 in 2002.

State officials were disappointed that gaps in student performance did not close at an appreciable level on NAEP. In both grades four and eight, white students scored higher than black and Hispanic students. At grade four, the gap in performance between white and black scores narrowed by three points from 1998 to 2002. At grade eight, the difference between white and black performance increased by three points from 1998 to 2002.

This assessment measures reading for literary experience, reading to gain information, and reading to perform a task (eighth grade only).

NAEP is becoming more important since No Child Left Behind, the federal education improvement act, requires that states participate in the formerly optional NAEP testing. North Carolina has always participated in NAEP.

Samples of students in a state take part in NAEP. In 2002, 3,276 fourth graders in 130 North Carolina public schools took NAEP's reading assessment. A total of 2,540 eighth graders in 130 public schools in our state participated in the assessment.

State reports and other information on NAEP are on the Web at

Later this summer, NAEP writing results will be released, followed this fall by 2003 results for reading and mathematics. Because NAEP is administered to a sample of students statewide, local school system results are not available.

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.