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Scores show black, Hispanic students faring better in math, reading

WASHINGTON—Black and Hispanic 9-year-olds' scores on a math and reading test that's administered to thousands of youths nationwide are getting closer to the traditionally higher marks of white students, according to results released Thursday.

Some educators said the improvement was a sign that schools are beginning to help minorities reach the test-achievement level of white students, who typically do better on national examinations.

The National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Department of Education, gives the multiple-choice test—dubbed The Nation's Report Card—every few years. It was given to 28,000 students ages 9, 13 and 17 in about 40 states last year. Because the test doesn't change over the years, analysts were able to compare the 2004 results with the findings of the 11 examinations given since 1971. The racial disparity in scores has lessened overall since the 1970s.

"We're seeing real noticeable improvement, especially in the early grades," Darvin Winick, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, said at a news conference Thursday.

Of the three age groups, 9-year-olds improved the most, with the average scores of whites, blacks and Hispanics all increasing since 1999, the last year in which the test had been administered previously. Blacks and Hispanics narrowed the achievement gap with whites in both the math and reading sections.

Winick called the reduction of the racial disparity a "win-win situation," because black and Hispanic students' scores are improving even as white students' scores are rising. On average, the 2004 reading scores of white and black 9-year-olds were separated by 26 points, down from 35 in 1999. The difference between the reading scores of white and Hispanic students from that age group was 21 points, down from 28 in 1999.

The older age groups didn't improve much on the test scores from 1999, though blacks did improve slightly compared with whites. Thirteen- and 17-year-old Hispanics didn't better their performance. Analysts couldn't explain why the older students didn't do better, but suggested that the government look into how to improve students' skills as they go through high school and prepare for college.

Grover Whitehurst, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said the achievement gap generally was fueled by students' different socioeconomic backgrounds, their families' emphasis on education and the quality of the schools they attended, among other factors.

Although education experts called the results of the 2004 test encouraging, some noted that examinations can't always gauge a student's ability. Some analyses, for instance, look at students' writing or ask open-ended questions based on a reading passage.

"Not only is testing not the only thing, but there are different kinds of tests," said Barbara Kapinus, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based National Education Association. "Depending on how a test is designed, kids can only show a certain amount of what they know."

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Black and Hispanic students in several age groups have been narrowing the gap in scores with whites on a nationally administered math and reading test since the 1970s, according to a Department of Education report released Thursday.

Nine-year-old minority students made the greatest strides in the test last year.

The first number is a group's average score for 2004; the second is the score for 1999, when the test was last administered before 2004.

_Average reading scores of 9-year-olds:

Whites, 226, 221

Blacks, 200, 186

Hispanics, 205, 193

_Average math scores of 9-year-olds:

Whites, 247, 239

Blacks, 224, 211

Hispanics, 230, 213

_Average reading scores of 13-year-olds:

Whites, 266, 267

Blacks, 244, 238

Hispanics, 242, 244

_Average math scores of 13-year-olds:

Whites, 288, 283

Blacks, 262, 251

Hispanics, 265, 259

_Average reading scores of 17-year-olds:

Whites, 293, 295

Blacks, 264, 264

Hispanics, 264, 271

_Average math scores of 17-year-olds:

Whites, 313, 315

Blacks, 285, 283

Hispanics, 289, 293

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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