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Though vocabulary scores improve, performance gap for minorities persists

Though vocabulary scores improve, performance gap for minorities persists

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's fourth- and eighth-grade students scored ahead of their national peers in the vocabulary portion of the 2009 and 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests, the Utah State Office of Education announced Thursday.

The NAEP results show Utah's fourth-grade students scoring 218 points in 2009 and 220 in 2011, compared to a national average of 217 for both years. Eighth-grade students scored 269 points in 2009 and 272 in 2011, compared to a national average of 263, also for both years

Utah was also one of 18 states where both age groups scored higher than the national average.

“It is gratifying to see Utah’s students performing well," deputy state superintendent Martell Menlove said in a prepared statement. "It is even more gratifying to see them improving during a time when national scores are flat.”

The NAEP data marks the first time vocabulary scores were reported separately from the reading assessments, which are administered every other year, Utah State Office of Education spokesman Mark Peterson said. Tests are given to a cross-section of students, meaning that there is no school- or district-specific data.

The report also shows a continuing performance gap between Caucasian and Hispanic students both nationally and in Utah. In 2009, Utah's Hispanic students trailed white students by 31 points in the fourth grade and 24 points in the eighth grade. In 2011, the eighth-grade gap grew to 25 points, but each ethnic group's isolated scores increased.

John Jesse, assessment and accountability director for Utah State Office of Education, said the numbers are reflective of the teaching and learning going on in the state. He said it's promising to see that performance gaps in Utah shrink as students age, but added that there's clearly more work to be done with the state's minority population.

"We have an issue with gaps here in Utah, as all states do, and we need to attend to that," he said. "We're not pleased until there's no gap at all."

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Benjamin Wood


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