School & District Management

Achievement Rising in Urban Districts, Report Finds

By Karla Scoon Reid — April 02, 2003 2 min read

Despite facing higher academic standards and budget cuts, urban schools are continuing to see gains on assessments in reading and mathematics, a national study released last week has found.

The report, “Beating the Odds III: A City-By-City Analysis of Student Performance And Achievement Gaps On State Assessments,” is available from the Council of the Great City Schools. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.) An Executive Summary is also available.

The third annual analysis of the largest urban districts by the Council of the Great City Schools also shows that some school systems are making headway in closing the achievement gap that exists between African-American and Hispanic students on the one hand and their white classmates on the other.

“We’ve got a running start on ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ” Michael D. Casserly, the council’s executive director, said of the 2001 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which places mandates on schools to raise student performance. “We’re glad we’re not at a standstill.”

Still, “Beating the Odds III,” released on March 24, found that disparities in achievement for poor students, those with disabilities, and those learning English persist.

The Washington-based advocacy group for city school districts examined the math and reading test-score results for every grade level in 59 school systems in 36 states. The analysis shows that the districts are having more success at improving achievement in math than in reading.

From 2000 to 2002, the percentage of city districts that saw improvement at every grade level in math jumped from 47 percent to 64 percent. In reading, the percentage of cities that saw test scores improve at all grade levels during the same period remained constant, at 35 percent.

The report also says that 17 percent of districts made test-score gains in math at all grade levels that outpaced their respective states’ average gains, compared with 4 percent in 2000. Roughly 10 percent of city school systems improved their reading-test scores at all grade levels at a faster rate than their states’ average gains in 2002—up from 6 percent in 2000.

Technical Assistance Planned

Among the good news on urban districts’ reading scores is the council’s finding that roughly 83 percent of all cities studied improved their students’ scores in at least half the grades tested last year.

And the percentage of districts that saw test scores drop in either subject has remained stable in the past three years.

Although the No Child Left Behind Act will require states to break out student test results by factors such as race and economic status, state-by-state comparisons will continue to be difficult because of the variety of assessments being administered, Mr. Casserly said.

The council is studying the achievements of districts with consistent test-score improvements so it can come up with technical-assistance models for struggling school systems.

The organization has offered to help several districts that have yet to show progress on state assessments, Mr. Casserly said. It hopes to assemble a team of experts in curriculum and instruction to help those districts review and improve their education programs.

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