ARLINGTON, Va. — Eighth-grade students in overseas Department of Defense Dependents Schools outperformed their U.S.-based peers for a first-place finish in reading comprehension in 2002, while DODDS fourth-grade readers took fifth place overall, according to a test educators call the “nation’s report card.”

The reading comprehension results released Thursday are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a benchmark education assessment conducted by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The 2002 test, which students took last winter, included fourth-grade students in 48 states and jurisdictions and eighth-grade students in 47 states and jurisdictions. The Education Department will release the results of the NEAP 2002 writing assessment and the 2003 mathematics and reading assessments later this year.

In the reading comprehension segment of the NEAP, eighth-grade DODDS students scored 273 out of a possible 300 — the highest score earned on the test by any state or jurisdiction.

Eighth-graders in the U.S.-based Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools, or DDESS, tied for second place with Vermont, both scored 272.

The national average for eighth-grade readers was 263.

The 2002 reading scores for Defense-schooled eighth-graders were an improvement over their 1998 scores, when DODDS finished third and DDESS finished fourth.

Both DDESS and DODDS fourth-graders scored significantly higher on reading comprehension than the 2002 national average of 217.

DDESS fourth-graders scored 225, which was good for a fourth-place tie with Maine, Minnesota and Virginia, and a notch higher than their 1998 fifth-place finish.

The DODDS fourth-graders, with 224, averaged just one point lower than their stateside Defense school peers and share fifth place with Delaware, Montana, North Dakota and Washington.

In 1998, DODDS students ranked seventh overall in reading.

Sheridan Pearce, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Education Association, a group for educators who work in DOD schools, said in a telephone interview Monday that DOD students performed well because “we do a good job.”

“Our educators are very highly trained, motivated and educated,” Pearce said.

Pearce also credited the close-knit nature of military communities for the successful test results.

DOD schools also are fortunate in that they are adequately funded, which ensures students don’t suffer shortages of basic materials that often plague budget-crunched public schools, Pearce noted.

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