AUGUSTA — Maine compares well to other states on the nation’s report card, but Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen is calling for improvements in literacy.

Results released Tuesday from the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress show that Maine’s eighth-graders improved in mathematics. Maine students did not make significant progress, however, in fourth-grade mathematics or in reading for fourth or eighth grade.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is known as the nation’s report card because a sampling of students from each state take the same test.

“It’s the one test we can actually use to compare to other states,” said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.

In both reading and mathematics, for both grades four and eight, Maine students scored higher than the national average.

Maine is one of 13 states where eighth-graders improved in mathematics from 2009. Maine’s average score rose from 286 to 289, and the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient rose from 35 to 39.

Results for fourth-grade mathematics were unchanged from 2009. Maine’s eighth-graders made slight gains in reading.

Fourth-graders scored lower on average in reading, and the percentage rating proficient or higher declined from 35 to 32, but the federal report does not count the decline as significant.

On a national scale, the average mathematics scores rose by one point for each grade level, reaching their highest marks to date.

The average reading score for eighth grade rose by one point, but the average fourth-grade score remained unchanged.

Connerty-Marin noted that reading scores have not risen significantly since testing began in 1992.
“So we’re flat in reading. We’ve been flat for a long time,” he said. “The whole country’s relatively flat in reading. So we say OK, we’re not unique. Everybody’s having this problem, so how are we going to address it?”

The Maine Department of Education is already working on a statewide literacy plan, expected to be completed before the end of the year. The plan will focus on better coordination of various resources and systems in the state, such as instruction in K-12 schools, early childhood education, parent education and training for teachers.

“We want to make sure that all of it is working in concert toward a unified goal and with some alignment in how they approach things,” Connerty-Marin said. “There’s research out there that tells us how kids learn, but we’re not necessarily applying it.”

Several nonprofit organizations also promote literacy in the state, for both children and adults, including the Maine Family Literacy Initiative, Maine Humanities Council, Raising Readers and Maine Reads.

Maine Reads coordinates among the state’s literacy agencies, distributes books to kindergarten students and teaches parents how to read with children so it’s fun for everyone.

While the organization does not get involved in policy, Executive Director Sarah Cecil said she is glad for attention to the issue.

“It’s a really important cause,” Cecil said. “You’re trying to ensure that people have a happy future, essentially.”

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at [email protected]