NEWS RELEASES 2009-10 :: OCTOBER 14, 2009


North Carolina fourth and eighth graders outperformed the nation in mathematics in 2009, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress results today released by the U.S. Department of Education.

North Carolina fourth graders had a particularly strong performance, increasing their average score by two points over fourth grade performance in 2007. The average score among the state's fourth graders was 244 versus 239 for the nation. Only Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont performed significantly above North Carolina in fourth grade mathematics. North Carolina's performance at fourth grade was not significantly different from that of 18 other states and was higher than 29 other states or jurisdictions.

Eighth grade students in North Carolina outperformed their national counterparts although their score did not change from 2007. The average score among the state's eighth graders was 284, which is statistically higher than the national score of 282. North Carolina's eighth grade performance was higher than 19 other states or jurisdictions, not significantly different from 18 and lower than 14 states or jurisdictions.

Over time, students in North Carolina have consistently improved their performance on the NAEP. When the assessments began in the early 1990s, North Carolina students scored well below the national average. Over time, the state's performance has improved at a faster rate than the nation's performance.

"NAEP allows us to see how our students' performance on these national exams compares with other states' students," said State Superintendent June Atkinson. "We can see significant improvements over time, but there also are persistent gaps in achievement that all the states need to address."

In addition to reporting scale scores, NAEP also reports the percentage of students at three proficiency levels: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. Students who do not reach the Basic level are considered below Basic. The proficiency level of Basic or above is considered to be similar to North Carolina's proficient level on its end-of-grade tests. The NAEP proficiency levels are set at a very rigorous level and the Proficient level is defined as mastery over challenging subject matter. In 2009, the percentage of students scoring proficient in mathematics on North Carolina's state end-of-grade tests was 79.9 percent when student retest results were included for grades 3-8, or 72 percent without the inclusion of retests.

Since the NAEP began, the percentage of North Carolina students scoring in higher categories has dramatically improved. At the fourth grade, the below Basic category has moved from 50 percent of students in 1992 to 13 percent in 2009. At the same time, the percentage of students scoring at Basic or better has increased to 87 percent. In 1992, only 50 percent of North Carolina students were performing at the Basic level or better.

At the eighth grade level, a similar pattern is visible. The percentage of students scoring at higher levels has improved over time. In 1990, 62 percent of North Carolina eight graders were below the Basic level, but in 2009, only 26 percent are below Basic. The percentage of students at Basic or above in 2009 was 74 percent, up from 38 percent in 1990 the first year of 8th grade NAEP.

"North Carolina has depended on the NAEP for a number of years to help us gauge the rigor of our own state tests, and it is good news that our NAEP trendline is closely aligning with our state's testing results," said State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. "This shows that we have increased our state standards to be more aligned with the national ones."

Student differences play a role in performance. While male and female students scored similarly in 2009, in grades fourth and eighth, there continues to be gaps between different racial groups. Black students had an average score that was 28 points lower than white students at the fourth grade level and 35 points lower at the eighth grade level.

Hispanic students had an average score that was 18 points lower than white students in fourth grade and 23 points lower in eighth grade.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals had lower scores than students who did not qualify. At the fourth grade level, that gap was 23 points. At the eighth grade, the gap was 30 points.

None of these gaps appeared to narrow in 2009 for North Carolina or the nation.

The NAEP assesses mathematics in five content areas: number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra. The 2009 NAEP in mathematics was given to 4,416 North Carolina fourth graders from 190 schools. There were 4,440 eighth graders at 153 schools participating.

NAEP results were presented today in fourth and eighth grade mathematics for all 50 states, the Department of Defense schools, Bureau of Indian Education, and the District of Columbia. Only national and state-level information is available because the NAEP is given to a sample of students representing the state overall. Comparisons between North Carolina students and the nation are made using public school scores only. The NAEP tests students nationally in reading, mathematics, science, writing, civics, economics, geography, U.S. History, and the arts. Reading and mathematics are assessed every two years; the other subjects are assessed as outlined by the National Assessment Governing Board.

The NAEP is often referred to as the Nation's Report card because it is the only common assessment used in the United States that allows one to compare the performance of students with the performance of students across the nation or in other states. The NAEP Reading results for 2009 will be released in spring 2010. Reading results are being reported later than mathematics results because the reading assessments are new and testing officials are in the process of establishing new standards and mechanisms for comparing the 2009 results to the prior ones.

For more information on today's NAEP announcement, please contact the NC Department of Public Instruction's Communication office at 919.807.3450.

  • NC Snapshot 4th Grade Mathematics
    (pdf, 62kb)
  • NC Snapshot 8th Grade Mathematics
    (pdf, 62kb)

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 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.