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N.M. Near Bottom In Vocabulary Scores

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s fourth-graders scored dead last among the 50 states in vocabulary skills, according to a report released this week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Only the District of Columbia scored lower.

Eighth-graders fared slightly better, outscoring students in California, Mississippi, Hawaii, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.

This is the first-ever vocabulary report from NAEP, which is the only standardized test taken by a sample of students in every state. That makes the results more comparable than other state achievement tests, which vary significantly in difficulty.


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NAEP has released reports on reading achievement for years, but a specific vocabulary section has now been added to the test. The latest report, which includes results from 2011, is the first public look at how well students understand the meanings of words.

The top state for both fourth- and eighth-graders was Massachusetts.

The test did not simply ask students for word definitions, but asked for meaning in the context of a written passage.

The report highlights some words that were difficult for students nationwide and others that most seemed to know. For example, 75 percent or more of fourth-graders could identify the meanings of “created” and “underestimate,” while less than half knew the words “flourish” and “prestigious.”

Eighth-graders nationwide mostly knew the meanings of “anecdotes” and “enticing,” but struggled with “urbane.”

The report also highlighted stark national achievement gaps between Anglo students and their black and Hispanic peers. There were also large gaps between students from low-income families and their higher-income peers. These achievement gap data were not available at the state level.

Of fourth-graders whose scores were in the top 75 percent of the nation, 72 percent were Anglo, 10 percent were Hispanic, and 7 percent were black. In addition, 24 percent were eligible for lunch subsidies, and 2 percent were learning English. Similar patterns held for eighth-graders.

For fourth-graders scoring in the bottom 25 percent of the nation, 33 percent were Anglo, 35 percent were Hispanic, and 25 percent were black.

Also, 73 percent were eligible for lunch subsidies, and 24 percent were learning English.

About two-thirds of New Mexico public school students qualify for lunch subsidies, and more than half are Hispanic.

New Mexico’s reading scores on NAEP have been flat for years, although the state has made progress in math. In fact, the last release of NAEP scores showed New Mexico was one of only four jurisdictions to make significant progress in math. However, the state’s math scores are still near the bottom of national rankings.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal