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Utah students improved by standing still in 2015, according to a report released Wednesday that showed math and reading performance slipping throughout the country.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation's Report Card, found Utah's scores to be statistically unchanged since 2013 with the exception of fourth-grade reading, which climbed three points, to 226, on a 500-point scale.
The report, based on a test given to a sample of students every two years, measures math and reading ability in grades four and eight.
States are not ranked, but raw scores indicate that Utah climbed to 10th place in eighth-grade reading and 16th place in eighth-grade math, according to Utah State Office of Education spokesman Mark Peterson.
"Most of that gain is because the nation fell and we didn't," Peterson said.
This year's report marks the first time that national mathematics scores have declined, according to Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.
In a prepared statement, Carr noted that scores have improved over time and a single year of test results does not indicate a downward performance trend.
"We need to exercise caution until we see the results from the 2017 assessment," she said.
Peterson attributed the state's bump in fourth-grade reading scores to the performance of Utah's Latino students, who improved by an average of eight points.
Minority students traditionally lag behind their white classmates, creating achievement gaps as populations diversify.
"It looks like we are doing better at working with Hispanic students in the younger grades," Peterson said. "That is great news for us."
Minority students helped boost Utah's scores on the nation's report card, but the state's relative lack of diversity was a liability in a report released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.
Using student-level demographic data from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Urban Institute senior fellow Matt Chingos compared the performance of test-takers with their peers in other states.
After adjusting for its relative affluence and homogeneity, Utah's middle-of-the-pack test scores fell to 47th in the nation, according to the report.
"That is bringing Utah's score down," Chingos said. "Their white kids aren't doing as well as white kids in other states."
Chingos said politicians and education advocates tend to use scores from the nation's report card as evidence of success or failure.
But adjusting for demographics shows which students are "breaking the curve," he said, by performing better than their race, income-level and English language fluency would suggest.
"They should be looking at these adjusted numbers and not just the raw scores," he said.
While the adjusted numbers put Utah near the bottom of the nation on math and reading, all states have improved on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to the Urban Institute report.
Test scores would be expected to decline as states and the nation grows more diverse, Chingos said. That means small increases, or even stagnant scores, point to educational improvement.
"The fact that scores, on average for the country, have been going up even as demographic shifts have favored groups that tend to score less well ... that at least suggests schools are getting better," he said.
The percentage of Utah students scoring proficiently on the National Assessment of Educational Progress topped the national average on all four tests.
Those percentages 38 percent for eighth-grade math and reading, 44 percent for fourth-grade math and 40 percent for fourth-grade reading were within seven points of the proficiency rates for math and English language arts on SAGE, Utah's statewide year-end test.
Some states have been criticized for lowering proficiency standards on year-end tests, resulting in a falsely inflated number of students who appear to be meeting grade-level expectations.
In May, Utah was among six states labeled as "Truth-Tellers" by the advocacy organization Achieve for reporting math and English proficiency rates on state tests that aligned with the nation's report card.