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.