Continued Gains Made in Fourth Grade Math Skills

July 7, 2003
Fourth grade students in the Montgomery County Public Schools reached an all-time high in mathematics and mathematics computation, and students in Grades 4 and 6 continued to perform well above the national average on nationally normed tests in reading, language, and mathematics.

The results are from the spring 2003 administration of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) in Grade 4 and the TerraNova California Achievement Tests (CAT) in Grade 6.

Grade 4 students, while maintaining their reading, language, and language mechanics performance at or above the 67th median national percentile, gained seven points in mathematics, placing them at the 78th median national percentile. They also gained nine points in mathematics computation, placing them at the 80th median national percentile. This is the first time that fourth grade students have reached this level of performance in mathematics.

Grade 6 students maintained last year's results in four of the five subject areas (scoring at or above the 65th median national percentile) and declined eight points to the 62nd median national percentile in mathematics computation. Additional analysis of the data is in progress to understand this decline more clearly.

The results follow on the heels of last month's release of Grade 2 CTBS data, in which students most at risk of academic failure performed at or above the national median and significant gains were made by African American and Hispanic students. Second graders also scored at the 83rd percentile in mathematics computation.

The performance of second grade students on the CTBS, along with two related studies, have received national attention because of the implications for improving prekindergarten education and instruction in the early elementary grades (see link below).

The new results for Grades 4 and 6 occurred during a period of continuous growth in the number of students academically at risk because of poverty and limitations in English skills. Compared with last year, for example, there was a 44-percent increase in Grade 4 and a 26-percent increase in Grade 6 in the percentage of students tested who were in need of English language services.

Nonetheless, Grade 4 students who participated in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services raised their performances to at or above the 40th median national percentile in all subject areas -- the highest ever in reading and math. In addition, Grade 6 ESOL students maintained their scores in all subject areas (in a range of the 24th to the 39th median national percentile).

Results for Grade 4 students receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) and special education services showed improvements in reading, language, and mathematics while maintaining scores in the other areas. Grade 6 students receiving these services experienced a decline in mathematics computation of about 8 points while largely maintaining their previous year's performance in the other subject areas.

Results for all racial/ethnic groups were generally better in Grade 4 than in Grade 6, with Asian American and white students continuing to score higher than African American and Hispanic students, although there was some narrowing of the achievement gap in specific subjects.

At the fourth grade level, African American students exceeded the national average in language mechanics and mathematics computation (53rd median national percentile) and were within one point of the national norm in reading and language (49th median national percentile).

Hispanic students surpassed the national average in mathematics, language mechanics, and mathematics computation (53rd median national percentile) in Grade 4 and were one point shy of being at the national average in reading and language.

Asian American students in Grade 4 scored at the 94th national median percentile in mathematics computation and marking the first time that any fourth grade score on the CTBS has reached the 90th national median percentile. White students maintained their scores, with all subject areas at or above the 80th percentile.

Results were mixed at the sixth grade level. Both Hispanic and white students gained in language mechanics (55th and 82nd median national percentile, respectively), while most groups maintained their performances in reading and language. Except for African American students, whose mathematics computation score remained the same as the previous year, all groups showed a seven- to eight-point decline in mathematics computation in Grade 6, reflecting the countywide decline in this subject area at that grade level.

Overall, the continued high performance by students in Grades 4 and 6 means that more than 80 percent of the MCPS elementary and middle schools achieved student scores at or above the national average in all of the subject areas.

Individual student reports for all grade levels will be mailed to parents this fall. The full report, with individual school results, is available on the web at the link below.

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