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Virginia's fourth- and eighth-graders perform better in reading and mathematics than their peers nationwide, but less than two-fifths have a solid grasp of reading and less than half have a solid grasp of math.
According to National Assessment of Educational Progress results released Tuesday, 36 percent of public school eighth-graders achieved at least "proficient" reading scores in 2011, compared to 32 percent in 2009. Among fourth-graders, 39 percent achieved proficient scores on the federal standardized tests, compared to 38 percent in 2009.
In math, 40 percent of Virginia eighth-graders achieved proficient scores in 2011, up from 36 percent in 2009, according to the report. Forty-six percent of fourth-graders performed at the proficient level, compared to 43 percent in 2009.
Nationally, 32 percent of eighth-graders and 32 percent of fourth-graders demonstrated proficiency in reading, and 37 percent of eighth-graders and 39 percent of fourth-graders demonstrated proficiency in math.
Proficiency is defined as solid academic performance at grade level, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
The tests, also known as "the nation's report card," are considered the best gauge of public schools' student performance in core subjects.
A lack of significant improvement in Virginia's eighth-grade NAEP reading scores over the last couple testing cycles as well as on state achievement tests has informed state efforts to pursue more rigorous standards in the subject, Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said. The new reading standards will take effect in 2012-13.
Acknowledging that more than half of Virginia's public school students still lack a solid understanding of math and reading, Pyle said: "We want those percentages to be higher."
NAEP's definition of proficiency, he said, is "much different than on a state accountability test" such as Virginia's Standards of Learning. "It's more of an aspirational standard, where we want our students to be."
But Virginia's public school students have improved their performance since the state implemented its SOL system in the late 1990s, Pyle said, and their NAEP results "compare very well with students in other states and nationwide."