National Test Results Show N.J. Fourth and Eighth-Graders Rank Second-Highest Overall in Reading Nationwide

November 1, 2011

They’re among the best, but they have a long way to go.

Fourth- and eighth-graders in New Jersey ranked near the top in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in math and reading, posting the second-highest reading scores in both grade levels, according to data released today.

The state’s fourth-graders ranked fourth nationally in math — up from fifth in 2009 — while eighth-graders got the third-highest scores, up from fifth two years ago.

Massachusetts students posted the highest scores in all four areas.

But results of the NAEP assessments, often nicknamed the "Nation’s Report Card," also showed fewer than 40 percent of students nationwide were "proficient" in all of the categories tested.

New Jersey fared somewhat better, with 43 percent of fourth-graders and 45 percent of eighth-graders scoring proficient or better in reading. In math, 51 percent of fourth-graders and 47 percent of eighth-graders were proficient or better.

NAEP defines proficient as "solid academic performance" and "competency over challenging subject matter."

"Being basic isn’t good enough," Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson said. "The NAEP is sort of the gold standard. It’s the best thing we have to measure true proficiency.

"We want highly proficient," she said. "Obviously, we need to make leaps."

The NAEP tests were administered between January and March this year to a representative sample of about 200,000 fourth graders and 170,000 eighth-graders across the country. In New Jersey, that included 3,100 fourth-graders and 2,500 eighth-graders.

The tests — which are scored from 0 to 500 — are the only nationally representative assessments given.

Nationally, the results showed an upward trend in math for both fourth and eighth graders, with a one point increase in overall scores since 2009, when the tests were last given. In reading, however, fourth-grade scores remained unchanged from 2009. Eighth grade reading scores went up by a point from two years ago.

The results also offered a few tidbits that help student performance. Among them: Fourth-graders who read for fun almost every day scored higher in reading.

The national results also showed the size of the ‘achievement gap" between wealthy and poor students, or between students of different races. In New Jersey, the results showed an "achievement gap" between wealthy and poor students that is among the highest in the country.

New Jersey Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf praised the state’s "significant achievement" on the exams, but also said much work needs to be done to help lowest-performing students.

"We must find the right balance between celebrating our successes and a sense of urgency to improve," he said.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, also noted the nagging achievement gap "reflecting the growing inequality in our state.

"The challenge now is to work together on proven efforts that will improve and strengthen NJ’s public schools for all of our students," he said.

Anderson, the Newark superintendent, said she believes there is "hope" of improving.

"There are schools all over the country, hundreds of schools where 90 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, and 90 percent are going math and reading at proficiency," she said. "There are core things they do very well. And I find that very hopeful."

The math and reading results are available at