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North Dakota students up in math over 20 years

North Dakota students are excelling at math, but reading scores are stagnant, according to The Nation’s Report Card, the official website of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Results were released Thursday for the mandatory standardized math and reading tests taken by a statistical sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders in the country.

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“We’re pleased that we’re above the national average, and we’re making gains in math,” said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota superintendent of public instruction.

North Dakota’s test scores follow the national trend, said Pauline Iler, North Dakota NAEP coordinator.

“The math scores have gone up over time and the reading scores have not — basically have plateaued,” Iler said.

The tests are administered every two years and were made mandatory by No Child Left Behind, Iler said. North Dakota has participated in the test since 1968. In order to maintain Title I funding, schools must give the tests.

Test results like these give the state a chance to evaluate its instructional strengths and opportunities, Baesler said.

“We have to take a look at what our instructional strategies are,” Baesler said. “Learn from the states that are seeing bigger increases and larger gains and higher scores. What are they doing? What type of instructional strategies are they incorporating in their classrooms that we may be able to replicate?”

North Dakota ranked fourth in fourth-grade math and sixth in eighth-grade math when compared with other states.

“We’ve understood the importance of a strong math foundation in innovation and the future, so I think that there’s been a great amount of energy and resources dedicated to math,” Baesler said. “I’m not so certain that we’ve dedicated and devoted that same energy into reading.”

In reading, the state ranked 13th for fourth-graders and 16th for eighth-graders.

“Reading has to become an across-the-board goal in our classrooms, and I think we’ll see the gains that we want,” Baesler said. “Reading is absolutely critical for the success of our students, regardless of what career path they take.”

Both fourth-grade math and eighth-grade reading among Native American students went up four points, Iler said.

“Four points is a lot,” Iler said. “It’s an impressive gain on the NAEP assessments — it’s a difficult test.”

Assessments take place in between January and March in schools across the country. Data is not made available for each individual student or school, Iler said. In larger districts, the results for a district as a whole are made available, but because North Dakota is considered a low-population state, results are made available as a state.

“Places like New York City, San Antonio, (Texas), they actually get district scores — they know the scores for New York City, not just New York state,” Iler said. “Our school population is small compared to those numbers, so we don’t get anything other than the state score.”

North Dakota ranked above the national average for all categories, but was closest in eighth-grade reading, scoring only two points higher.

Male and female students performed similarly in math in both grade levels, but girls had much higher reading scores than boys — North Dakota fourth-grade girls scored eight points higher than boys and eighth-grade girls scored 10 points higher than boys.

High student mobility — students moving in and out of districts — can affect statewide scores on standardized tests, Baesler said.

“They don’t have the benefit of a consistent educational career,” Baesler said.

The increase in English language learners combined with rising incomes can affect the assistance a school receives.

“We’re seeing more diversity, more challenges in our school districts across the state, yet the support that we’re receiving in federal Title I funding for specifically targeted instruction for reading and math — the funds that we’re receiving for those are decreasing,” Baesler said.

Title 1 funding is income-based, Baesler said.

“We’re seeing the income of North Dakota families rise,” Baesler said. “So they’re not qualifying for that assistance from the federal government.”

Black and Hispanic students scored several points lower than white students in all measured categories, as did students receiving free or reduced lunch compared to those that did not qualify for this benefit.

“We are seeing our needs increase in those areas, but receiving less money because the average income in North Dakota is on the rise,” Baesler said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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