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Asian/Pacific Islanders enrolled in Defense Department schools did better than the U.S. average in a standardized reading test last year, but they failed to keep pace with their ethnic group stateside.

Among fourth-graders, Asian/Pacific Islanders earned an average score of 234 out of a potential 500 in the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress tests. That’s four points above the national average but 10 points lower than Asian/Pacific Islanders across the States.

Eighth-graders scored 272 — 10 points above the national average, but a point less than Asian/Pacific Islanders in the States.

The system’s black and Hispanic students, meanwhile, did better than their ethnic counterparts in the States, sometimes by wide margins. Test results were released last month.

Department of Defense Education Activity director Shirley Miles said in a recent interview that the organization is studying the NAEP results and hasn’t reached any conclusions yet.

But she rejected the idea that DODEA has done better at pushing students who normally score below average in the States — including blacks and Hispanics — and not so well with students such as Asians who generally test above average.

“I don’t agree with that,” she said in a telephone interview. “I think all of our students are pushed.”

Steve Schrankel, chief of assessment and accountability for DODEA, noted that Asian/Pacific Islanders make up less than 10 percent of the DODEA student population in the fourth and eighth grades. Since those calculating NAEP scores only use samples and not the entire population, the potential margin of error is greater as the population gets smaller.

“It’s easier to prove significance for hundreds or thousands of students, than perhaps dozens [being scored],” he said.

Arnold A. Goldstein, director for Design, Analysis, and Reporting for the National Center for Education Statistics — which releases the NAEP results — agreed with that assessment. He said the margin of error for DODEA’s Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders is about 8 percent plus or minus the average score. The margin of error for all DODEA fourth-graders — a much greater population — is only about 1.5 points in either direction.

Goldstein said about 13 percent of DODEA Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders are also listed as “English learners.” Such students might have more trouble reading English. Only nine percent of DODEA’s fourth-grade Hispanic students are listed as “English learners.”

DODEA’s Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders have consistently scored lower in reading than that ethnic group in stateside schools since 2003, when they had the same scores. In three testing periods before that, DODEA’s Asian/Pacific Islanders scored better than their counterparts in the States.

DODEA Asian/Pacific Islanders in eighth grade had scored higher than their stateside peers from 1998 until the most recent test.

Miles stressed that the scores by Asian/Pacific Islanders in DODEA are still above the U.S. average for all students. She said she’s generally pleased with the results and believes they show signs of progress.

“While they’re good, they can be better,” she said. “I always believe that.”

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