Utah’s national report card shows minority and low-income students lagging, despite state’s higher test scores

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fifth graders work on a reading assignment in Kathleen Wilson's language arts class at Riley Elementary School in Salt Lake City Tuesday April 10, 2018. Utah’s average scores on the Nation’s Report Card for 2017 have improved from two years ago, but state officials remain concerned that minority and low-income students in the state continue to lag behind their peers.

Utah’s average scores on what is called the Nation’s Report Card for 2017 improved slightly from two years before, but state Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said she fears certain groups of students are not performing well enough academically.

The National Assessment of Education Progress, released Tuesday, tests a representative sample of students in most U.S. states every two years to capture a national snapshot of student learning.

And for the past several testing cycles, Utah’s scores for mathematics and reading proficiency in fourth- and eighth-graders have held steady, ranking the state above the national average.

But the newly released 2017 scores show that some minority groups in Utah are lagging behind, or in some cases, getting worse. While the data are not broken down by district or school, certain demographics, including gender, ethnicity and poverty level, are included.

On a 300-point scale, Utah’s eighth-grade students scored an average of 287 in math, five points above the national average, and 269 for reading, four points above average U.S. scores.

Those same averages for Utah’s Hispanic eighth-graders, however, fell between 25 and 30 points lower than scores for the state overall.

“While our top performing students are outperforming their peers in the nation, we are deeply concerned about gaps in achievement among various student groups,” Dickson said Tuesday in a written statement.

Breaking the scores down by gender also yielded results that diverged from the state averages for certain groups. Fourth-grade girls performed better in reading than boys. In eighth grade, boys performed a few points higher in math than girls.

Similar patterns emerged in the NAEP scores for students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, an indicator that a child comes from a low-income household.

Utah eighth-graders in that category scored about 20 points lower in reading and 28 points lower in math than students who did not qualify for meal assistance. Fourth-graders who qualified for the aid performed 26 points lower in reading and 22 points lower in math than those who did not qualify.

“We will be working closely with our local school districts and charter schools to ensure every student has the knowledge and skills needed to ensure they have choices about their future,” Dickson said.

One minority group — eighth-grade Asian/Pacific Islander students — saw reading scores improve by five points since 2015. Still, scores were down for those same students in math proficiency.

Due to an insufficient sample size within demographic groups, the NAEP testing did not yield consistent scores for Utah students who are black in either fourth or eighth grade, nor for American Indian or Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders.

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