New Jersey twelfth-graders outperform the national average in reading and math, according to the 2013 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, released Wednesday.

But test results show that both nationally and in New Jersey scores have not improved over the last four years, and there is still a large achievement gap among socio-economic groups, and between black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students.

More national education advocates are calling for a change in how the country addresses education reform. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the lack of progress troubling especially in light of the growth in enrollment of minority students nationally.

“We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as a nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students” he said.

Locally, an Atlantic City student with a reading disorder is also calling for a change in a testing system she said ruins the self esteem of students who for reasons beyond their control do not perform well on standardized tests. Eliana Heard, 11, said in an essay she sent to The Press of Atlantic City that she refuses to be defined by test results.

Statewide and nationally Asians are the highest performing group in math, and are tied with whites in reading, with about 47 percent of Asian students performing at or above the proficient level. National proficiency rates for Hispanic and black students were just 12 percent and seven percent respectively in math, and 23 percent and 16 percent respectively in reading, with New Jersey students performing just slightly better.

The NAEP has four performance levels: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Statewide and nationally almost 40 percent of students score at the basic level in math, and 37 percent score basic in reading, which is considered the minimum passing level. The goal is to achieve proficiency.

New Jersey pulls ahead nationally by having more students score in the proficient and advanced proficient areas. In New Jersey 33 percent of students were proficient or above in math, and 41 percent were proficient in reading.

Overall scores were a few points higher than in 2009, but not enough to be considered statistically significant.

New Jersey was one of 13 states participating in a pilot project that tests students in both 2009 and 2013. New Jersey ranked second in math behind Massachusetts and fifth in reading. Not all students take the NAEP, but the sample reflects the total student population.

“The achievement gap between our highest performing and lowest performing students, and between our white students and our black and Hispanic students, is unacceptable to the Christie Administration,” said acting New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe. “Working with educators across the state, we will close this gap.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the results “nothing to write home about,” and said education reform must switch from a “test and sanction” model to a “support and improve paradigm” that prepares all students for life and careers.

Bob Schaeffer, of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also called for change and noted that nationally parents have begun protesting the pressure of high-stakes tests and even opting out of having their children take them.

Heard, 11, a fifth grader at the Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City, wrote in her essay that standardized tests are very unfair to students with disabilities and should not be used to define them. Students in New Jersey are taking the state NJASK test and she urged others to speak out about their impact.

Heard has dyslexia, a reading disorder. Her mother is an English teacher in Atlantic City. Heard wrote it is unfair to expect her to take the same test and perform the same as students without a disability.

“I suffer from anxiety when it comes to reading passages and/or math problems on tests,” she wrote. “But this past year I had a break through. I refuse to allow these standardized tests to affirm what I know I am! I am creative, a leader, possess good character, I’m motivated, driven, and courageous. I used to be insecure allowing these tests to make me think I was stupid. But now I realize these tests are the ones that are inaccurate. My voice may not be the changing factor for tests to be more fair, but I believe it is a seed that will be planted and blossom as I rise, and as I hope you will rise.”

She challenged the public and educators to find a better way to assess students that does not ruin their self esteem because they do not perform well on standardized tests.

“So what do I stand for?” she wrote. “I stand for the many students that are too afraid to propose a different means of testing to measure our intellect. I stand for fairness in annual testing!”

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.