The nation is making progress--albeit slowly--toward improving its educational system and the health and safety of its students, but direct action on the local level is needed to reduce dropout rates and drug use, a federal report released Wednesday said.
The National Education Goals Panel, which was convened in 1989 to assess the quality of education in America, cites several areas of improvement over the five years: Incidents involving violence and abuse of alcohol in schools have declined, while mathematics achievement and student health have improved.
But the panel warns that drug abuse in schools is on the rise, and little improvement has been noted in other key indicators.
"We're closer to meeting our national education goals," said Maine Gov. John R. McKernan Jr., outgoing chairman of the panel. "But it will take concerted action on the part of the public and policy-makers if we are to meet the goals we've established."
Performance on mathematics achievement tests among fourth and eighth-graders increased markedly from 1990 to 1992, the most recent year from which the test results are available. In 1990, only 20% of students in eighth grade and just 13% each in grades 4 and 12 were able to meet the panel's performance standards. This year's report shows a 5 percentage point jump in scores for fourth and eighth graders, and a 3 percentage point improvement for 12th graders.
But a breakdown of those results shows remaining difficulties. Female students did as well as males in grades four and eight, but lagged significantly in grade 12. White students in grades four and eight were the only racial group to make substantial gains in mathematics.
The math results are based on a nationwide sample of public and private school scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. While national testing showed overall improvement, California math scores for eighth-graders went from 16% meeting the panel's performance standard in 1990 to 20% in 1992. Other new results for California were not available.
A look at alcohol and drug abuse among students shows mixed results. While incidents of extreme alcohol consumption among public school students have dropped, student drug use remains a significant problem.
The number of 10th-graders who reported using any illicit drug during the previous year remained at about one in four in 1993, the report said, and 20% said someone had offered to sell or give them drugs at school.
Thirty-five percent of 10th-graders reported being threatened or injured at school in 1993, a figure the panel said remains "unacceptably high" even though it is down 5 percentage points from the 1991 level.
Among other findings in the report:
* There has been no progress in efforts to increase the number of low-income families that enroll children in preschool. High-income families remain much more likely to participate.
* The percentage of infants born with two or more health or developmental risks dropped one percentage point between 1990 and 1991, to 13%.
* White students still enroll and graduate from college in higher numbers than black or Latino students.