By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

Efforts by state and local school districts to improve student performance could be paying off, according to some local educators, as numbers from the federal Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress showed eighth-grade students scoring above the national average.

Also referred to as the "Nation's Report Card," the assessment uses a sampling of students from the nation's school districts to measure achievement in math and reading for fourth- and eighth-graders. This year, eighth-graders in Texas had an average score of 290 in mathematics, three points higher than they did in 2009 and 32 points higher than in 1990.

The state's eighth-grade students also continue to outpace the national average score, according to the report. For 2011, Texas' 290 average score was seven points higher than the national average score of 283.

The increase in math achievement at the eighth-grade level did not surprise Sandra Forsy, the principal at Smith Middle School at Fort Hood.

Smith said both the state and the Killeen Independent School District have been emphasizing mathematics, particularly at the middle school level.

"Math has always been a challenge at the middle-school level, where the subject matter becomes much more complex," Forsythe said. "You have to work to find the right ingredients to help students and teachers."

One of the major "ingredients" for Smith is the implementation of the Texas Instruments Math Forward program, which the school put in place in 2010.

The program, which was funded through a $235,000 algebra readiness grant from the Texas Education Agency, provided a number of tools for the school, including curriculum, professional development for teachers and technology for the school's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

The program appears to be working. The percentage of the school's eighth-graders who met math proficiencies on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills grew by 20 percent from 64 percent in 2010 to 84 percent in 2011. The school's sixth- and seventh-graders saw their proficiency percentages rise by 10 and 5 percent respectively.

The program was so successful, it was partially implemented at Palo Alto Middle School. In October, the KISD Board of Trustees voted to fully implement the program at the school.

Fourth grade behind

While the data from the national report show gains for eighth-graders like those in KISD, math scores for the state's fourth-graders remain relatively unchanged and below the national average. Texas' average math score for fourth-graders for 2011 was 240, while the national average was 241.

In the subject area of reading, both fourth- and eighth-graders in Texas were below the national average by two and three points respectively.

In a Nov. 1 news release, state Commissioner of Education Robert Scott acknowledged the reading scores, and said the state introduced new and improved language arts curriculum in classrooms during the 2009-10 school year.

"The new state of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) also significantly ramps up expectations in this area," said Scott. "I am optimistic that these efforts combined will begin to produce results soon."

Contact Chris McGuinness at

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