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The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2002

July 2003

Authors: Hilary R. Persky, Mary C. Daane, and Ying Jin


Executive Summary

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is an ongoing nationally representative sample survey of student achievement in core subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students.

This report presents the results of the NAEP 2002 writing assessment for the nation at grades 4, 8, and 12 and for participating states and other jurisdictions at grades 4 and 8. Assessment results are described in terms of their average writing score on a 0?300 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.

The achievement levels are performance standards adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) as part of its statutory responsibilities. The achievement levels are a collective judgment of what students should know and be able to do for each grade tested. As provided by law, NCES, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, determined that the achievement levels are to be considered developmental and should be interpreted with caution. However, both the Commissioner and the Board believe that these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials, as a common yardstick of academic performance.

The results presented in this report are based on representative samples of students for the nation and for participating states and other jurisdictions. Approximately 276,000 students from 11,000 schools were assessed. The national results reflect the performance of students attending both public and nonpublic schools, while the state and jurisdiction results reflect only the performance of students attending public schools. Information about writing achievement for students in selected urban school districts is presented in the NAEP 2002 Trial Urban District Assessment of writing.1

In addition to providing average scores and achievement level performance in writing for the nation and states and other jurisdictions, this report provides results for subgroups of students defined by various background characteristics. A summary of major findings from the NAEP 2002 assessment is presented on the following pages. Comparisons are made to national results from the 1998 assessment. The NAEP 1998 writing assessment was not administered at the state/jurisdiction level at grade 4; therefore, state-level comparisons are presented only for grade 8. Changes in student performance across years or differences between groups of students in 2002 are discussed only if they have been determined to be statistically significant at the 0.05 level.


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Overall Writing Results for the Nation and the States

Writing Results for the Nation

  • Students' average scores on the NAEP writing assessment increased between 1998 and 2002 at grades 4 and 8. However, no significant change was detected in the performance of twelfth-graders between the two assessment years.
  • Fourth-grade writing scores at the 10th to the 90th percentiles increased between 1998 and 2002. This means that the performance of high, middle, and low performing students improved between the two years. Gains were observed among the middle- and higher-performing students at grade 8. At grade 12, only the score at the 90th percentile increased since 1998, while scores at the 10th and 25th percentiles were lower in 2002.
  • In 2002, between 24 and 31 percent of the students in each of the three grades performed at or above the Proficient level. Fourth- and eighth-graders made overall gains since 1998 in reaching the Proficient level. There was no significant change detected in the percentage of twelfth-graders at or above Proficient; however the percentage of twelfth-graders at or above Basic decreased since 1998.

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Writing Results for the States and Other Jurisdictions

Results from the 2002 assessment are reported for 48 states and other jurisdictions at grades 4, and 47 states and other jurisdictions at grade 8. Results are reported only for public-school students at the state or jurisdiction level.

At grade 4

  • In 2002, fourth-grade average scores were higher than the national average score in 17 jurisdictions, and lower than the national average in 22 jurisdictions.
  • Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware were among the highest performing jurisdictions at grade 4. The average writing scores in Connecticut and Massachusetts were higher than in any of the other participating jurisdictions. Massachusetts was only outperformed by Connecticut. Students in Delaware were only outperformed by students in Connecticut and Massachusetts and had higher scores than the other participating jurisdictions except New York.

At grade 8

  • Of the 36 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1998 and 2002 eighth-grade writing assessment, 16 showed score increases in 2002 and none showed a significant decrease.
  • The percentage of eighth-graders at or above Proficient increased in 17 jurisdictions and decreased in 1 jurisdiction since 1998.
  • Connecticut, Department of Defense domestic and overseas schools, Massachusetts, and Vermont were among the highest performing jurisdictions at grade 8.

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National and State Writing Results for Student Subgroups

In addition to overall results for the nation and for the states and jurisdictions, NAEP reports on the performance of various subgroups of students. Observed differences between student subgroups in NAEP writing performance most likely reflect the interaction of a range of socioeconomic and educational factors not addressed in this report or by NAEP.

National Results

Gender

  • The average scores of male and female fourth- and eighth-graders were higher in 2002 than in 1998; however, at grade 12, the average scores for male students declined.
  • The percentages of female students performing at or above Proficient increased since 1998 at all three grades, and the percentage of male students performing at or above Proficient increased at grades 4 and 8.
  • In 2002, female students had higher average scores than male students at all three grades.
  • In 2002, females outperformed males on average by 17 points at grade 4, 21 points at grade 8, and 25 points at grade 12. The decline in the average score for male twelfth-graders between 1998 and 2002 resulted in an increase in the gap between male and female students.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grades 4 and 8, White, Black, and Hispanic students had higher average writing scores in 2002 than in 1998.
  • The percentages of students performing at or above Proficient increased since 1998 among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students at grade 4 and among White, Black, and Hispanic students at grade 8.
  • At grade 4, Asian/Pacific Islander students outperformed all other groups in 2002, and White students outperformed Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. At grade 8, White and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher on average than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. At grade 12, White and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher on average than Black and Hispanic students, and Hispanic students had higher scores than Black students.
  • In 2002, the score gap between White and Black fourth-graders was smaller than in 1998.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price Lunch

The program providing free/reduced-price lunch is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for children near or below the poverty line. Eligibility is determined by the USDA?s Income Eligibility Guidelines (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/IEGs&NAPs/IEGs.htm).

  • Average fourth- and eighth-grade writing scores in 2002 were higher than in 1998 for students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch, as well as for those who were not eligible.
  • The percentages of fourth- and eighth-graders at or above Proficient were higher in 2002 than in 1998 for students who were eligible and those who were not eligible for free/reduced-price lunch.
  • In 2002, the average writing score for students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch was lower than that of students who were not eligible at all three grades.

Title I Participation

Title I is a federally funded program that provides educational services to children who live in areas with high concentrations of low-income families. Due to recent changes in how the program is administered, comparisons to previous assessment year results are not available.

  • In 2002, students at all three grades who attended schools that participated in Title I, had lower average writing scores than students who attended schools that did not participate in Title I.

Parents? Level of Education

(reported by students)

  • There was a positive relationship between higher levels of parental education as reported by students and student achievement: for both eighth- and twelfth-graders, the higher the parental education level, the higher the average writing score. (Information about parental education was not collected at grade 4.)

Type of School

  • The average writing scores for fourth- and eighth-grade public-school students were higher in 2002 than in 1998.
  • In 2002, at all three grades, students who attended nonpublic schools had higher average writing scores than students who attended public schools. At grade 8, students who attended Catholic schools had higher scores than those attending other nonpublic schools.

Type of Location

  • Students in urban fringe schools had higher average writing scores than their peers in central city schools and rural schools at all three grades. Fourth- and eighth-grade students in rural schools had higher scores than their peers in central city schools, while the reverse was true at grade 12.

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State and Jurisdiction Results

Gender

  • At grade 8, average scores were higher in 2002 than in 1998 for both male and female students in 12 jurisdictions, for female students only in 1 jurisdiction, and for male students only in 2 jurisdictions.
  • In 2002, females had higher average scores than males in all the participating jurisdictions at both grades 4 and 8.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grade 8, average scores increased since 1998 for White students in 15 jurisdictions, for Black students in 9 jurisdictions, for Hispanic students in 4 jurisdictions, and for students classified as Other in 1 jurisdiction.
  • Score increases were observed for two or more racial/ethnic subgroups of eighth-graders in the following jurisdictions: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price Lunch

  • At grade 8, average scores increased since 1998 for both those students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch and those who were not eligible in 11 jurisdictions, for eligible students in 1 jurisdiction, and for students who were not eligible in 4 jurisdictions.
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1 Lutkus, A. D., Daane, M. C., Weiner, A. W., and Jin, Y. (forthcoming). The Nation's Report Card: Trial Urban District Assessment, Writing 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.



Download sections of the report (or the complete report ) in a PDF file for viewing and printing:

NCES 2003-529 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences. National Center for Education Statistics. The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2002, NCES 2003-529, by H. R. Persky, M. C. Daane, and Y. Jin. Washington, DC: 2003.

Last updated 22 July 2003 (RH)