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State Superintendent of Education John White makes a point while speaking at the annual meeting of Jump Start, which allows high school students to get workforce training in addition to regular academic classes, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

Scores for Louisiana public school fourth-graders are among the lowest in the nation for reading and math, according to the latest assessment. In addition, eighth-graders finished 50th among the states and the District of Columbia in math and 48th in reading.

The exams are the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

What is discouraging about the latest NAEP results is that Louisiana has been making progress on the national assessment, inching up. In 2015, for example, fourth-graders finished 43rd in the U. S. in reading and 45th in math.

But both scores dropped five points — to 212 and 229 out of 500 respectively — during tests administered to 2,700 students last year. That's a statistically reasonable sample of the some 700,000 school students, because it deals with only two grades. The National Center for Education Statistics say it's a statistically significant drop, not just a wobble, as most other states showed unchanged results in both subjects and in both grades.

State Superintendent of Education John White argues that this year's scores were affected by the fact the exams were done online for the first time. Until last year, he said, Louisiana and 10 other states did not quiz fourth-graders with computers.

White said that, among students who took the test with pencil and paper, scores were better in several areas compared to students who took the tests digitally.

NCES officials have downplayed the impact of the move to computers, but other experts believe that it made a difference.

Whatever the case, it is a discouraging report card. "Louisiana needs to improve, and we have a long way to go," White said.

He is right, as the state has struggled with education achievement for generations for a wide range of reasons, including poverty. Still, the shift to computers might have been an issue, as many schools in the state have been slow to get internet connectivity.

While computers and smartphones seem ubiquitous among young people, students from poor families may have much less familiarity with them. We'll learn more later. But in the meantime, our students and schools will have to do better, no matter where they start, because it's still a low rating.

Worst school system in nation? Louisiana, new study says