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Sorry, kids -- you're not good enough

After almost 29 years in journalism, I'm accustomed to state

officials applying a positive spin to news releases. What's new is the

negative spin frequently applied by State Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Reading scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress

(the Nation's Report Card) were released this morning. Here's the

headline from the Indiana Department of Education: "NAEP Reading

Scores Show Indiana Students' Performance Stagnant."

"I'm proud of Indiana students for outscoring most of their peers

across the country, but our scores have demonstrated only minimal

growth over the years and I'm worried about this lack of progress,"

Bennett says "Thirty percent of Indiana's fourth graders and 21

percent of our eighth graders were unable to demonstrate a Basic level

of understanding as defined by NAEP. These percentages have changed

little over the years, and that's just not good enough."

Wow. What a downer. Reading scores are up for both Indiana

fourth-graders and eighth-graders over 2007 and they continue to top

the national average. That's not good enough?

But the scores do allow Bennett to heap praise on his favorite state,

Florida, where eighth-graders still lag their Indiana peers but

fourth-graders have pulled three points ahead.

The superintendent attributes Florida's progress to "early-literacy

assurances and a strong focus on strengthening reading instruction."

"Early-literacy assurances" are not to be confused with

early-literacy initiatives or early learning. The assurances Bennett

refer to is the push to end social promotion in the third

grade. Florida requires students to pass the reading portion of the

FCAT, its version of the ISTEP+, to move along to fourth grade.

What Bennett neglects to mention, however, is that Florida is also a

leader in early childhood learning. The state offers voluntary pre-K

for 4-year-olds and requires kindergarten attendance in either a half-

or full-day program.

Indiana, of course, has no state-funded preschool. Kindergarten is

optional and the state pays only a portion of full-day kindergarten.

Just a thought, but couldn't that explain Florida's progress and

Indiana's "stagnant" scores?

And for the record, scores nationally were stagnant. Congratulations

to Indiana students and teachers for showing progress over 2007.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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