District in last place among states on federal exam

Maryland students improved their scores on a federal vocabulary exam, moving ahead of Virginia to claim the most articulate students in the region, according to results released Thursday.

The District ranked worst among states as scores dropped or stayed flat on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often dubbed the "Nation's Report Card," while students' progress stalled nationwide.

"Without a strong vocabulary, any child's ability to read and learn suffers dramatically," said David Driscoll, chairman of the governing board that sets policy for the tests.

In Maryland, fourth-graders increased their average score on the vocabulary exam from 223, out of 500, in 2009 to 226 in 2011. The average score across the nation was 217.

The score earned Maryland fourth-graders the No. 4 spot in the nation, trailing Massachusetts (233), New Hampshire (227) and North Dakota (227). Fourth-grade students in Virginia on average scored a 225, down from 228, putting the commonwealth just behind Maryland at fifth.

Neither state fared as well among eighth-graders, although Maryland again made a 3 percentage-point jump to pass Virginia. Maryland students earned an average score of 269, above the nationwide average of 263, while Virginia's average score remained stuck at 268.

Among eighth-graders, Maryland tied Kansas and Wisconsin for the No. 15 ranking, while Virginia placed 18th.

Maryland's higher performance "provides another indication that we are on the right track with Maryland public education," said State Superintendent Lillian Lowery.

D.C. students ranked last among states for both grade levels, with an average score of 194 for fourth-graders and 240 for eighth-graders.

Typically, school officials have pointed out that comparing a small urban district to a state is an apples-to-oranges comparison. The District also ranked last in federal reading and math exams.

But measured against itself, the District's average vocabulary score dropped from 198 to 194 for fourth-grade students and remained at 240 for eighth-grade students.

Hosanna Mahaley, the superintendent of the city's schools, including DC Public Schools and charter schools, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.