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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
US tests show slow progress
Handwriting
Tests show boys are only ahead of girls in science
School test results in the United States show a mixed picture of slight gains and losses - but few signs of a substantial rise in standards.

The National Assessment of Education Progress - known as the Nation's Report Card - reports that the latest test results show an improvement in maths, but little progress in literacy and science.

Nation's Report Card
Maths improved significantly
Science back up to levels of early 1970s
Reading unchanged since 1994
Black and Hispanic pupils behind whites in all subjects
Girls ahead of boys in reading
Girls and boys equal at maths
Boys ahead in science
Homework has increased
Fewer pupils are watching 6 hours television a day than 1978
The results, based on test performances of samples of 9, 13 and 17 year olds, suggest that apart from maths, average school standards have not risen since the early 1990s.

There is also concern that there is a wide gap between the achievements of white and black pupils, with black 17 year olds having an average reading age four years behind their white counterparts.

While in the United Kingdom there has been much concern over the "gender gap" and the underachievement of boys, the US figures suggest a similar pattern of results has already emerged there.

The latest test figures confirm that girls are ahead in reading, but there is no longer any difference in maths - with the girls having closed a lead held by the boys in the 1970s.

Among the older pupils, boys are still narrowly ahead in science, but the gap is closing and among 9 year olds there is no gender difference.

The tests, which have monitored school standards in core subjects such as maths, reading and science since 1969, also found considerable gaps between black and white pupils across the range of ages and subjects.

With both Republicans and Democrats making education a key election issue, the candidates are likely to seize on different aspects of the test results.

The lack of achievement in maths had once been a major cause for concern - and the education department has highlighted that there has been steady improvement in the subject.

But the statistics, taken over the past three decades show an overall picture of only marginal gains and losses in reading and science.

In reading, the most recent test results for 17 year olds have remained static since 1994 and are slightly lower than the years between 1988 and 1992.

In science, there were sharp declines in the 1970s in results for 17 year olds and gradual improvements through the 1980s and 1990s, so that the current score now lies at about the level achieved in the early 1970s.

But even these fluctuations are within narrow ranges - between point scores of 305 and 295 - suggesting relatively low levels of change.

This is in contrast to test and exam results in the United Kingdom, which have tended to show ongoing progress - to the extent that GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, published this week, have improved for 12 consecutive years.

The survey also includes information about the home background of pupils - with signs that homework had increased in all age groups, less reading materials were available in homes and 9 and 13 year olds were less likely to be watching six hours of television a day and more likely to be using a computer.

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See also:

10 Jun 00 | Education
Girls' schools return in US
15 Sep 99 | Education
Why have test results risen?
05 Dec 99 | Education
US fails to meet education targets
24 Aug 00 | Education
Girls stay ahead in GCSEs
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