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Editorial

Nationally, Mass. schools shine, but achievement gap persists

MASSACHUSETTS EDUCATORS got some terrific news this month, but state Secretary of Education Paul Reville has ample reason not to be satisfied.

First that good news: Bay State students have once again led the national pack on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, often called “the nation’s report card.’’ Massachusetts kids ranked first in eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading. They tied for first in fourth-grade math with New Hampshire, and shared first place in eighth-grade reading with New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, and Montana.

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The results show the continuing value of the state’s landmark education reform law of 1993, which married higher academic standards and accountability with funding increases aimed at ensuring that every student will get a solid education. In the years since that law, the percentages of Bay State students passing the NAEP exams and scoring proficient or above have steadily increased.

But Reville’s reaction was muted. “We celebrate it a little, because it is no small feat to lead the nation,’’ he says. “Nobody else has done it once. We have now done it four times.’’

So why just a little? Because the state still has a stubborn achievement gap separating white and minority students. “Standards-based education reform continues to remind us of the gap between our aspirations and our performance,’’ says Reville. “And that gap is still too big.’’

Which is why Reville and his boss, Governor Patrick, have just announced new strategies to address the problem. They are planned as pilot efforts and are appropriately focused in the state’s gateway cities, the mid-sized former mill cities where the gap is most persistent.

To get students reading proficiently by the third grade, the administration wants an intensive early-literacy program the summer before kids start kindergarten. To help non-native English speakers gain competence more quickly, Patrick and Reville want summer English camp. Meanwhile, student support counselors in low-income schools will work with social-service agencies to help families cope with problems that lead to missed school or reduced attention and motivation. Finally, by establishing high-school career academies (essentially schools within a school) that stress career options and focus on job readiness, the administration hopes to get students thinking earlier about careers.

Those are smart ideas - ideas worth finding funds for even in tough fiscal times. Reville and Patrick have the correct perspective here: Yes, this state is doing well overall, as the new NAEP results show. But if the Commonwealth is to do right by all its kids, that’s not good enough.

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