Assessment

Despite Some Progress, Math and Reading Proficiency Still Eluding Students in Urban Schools

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — December 01, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The nation’s cities have shown some improvement in reading and mathematics achievement, but most continue to struggle to move more children toward proficiency in those subjects, particularly minority students, according to the latest results of a special urban-district study on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“To us, it’s very encouraging because it says that our overall trends are moving in the right direction, however modest the reading scores are,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, a Washington-based advocacy group representing 66 of the nation’s largest-city districts. “But we are cognizant of the fact that we need to accelerate [the progress].”

Fourth and 8th graders in the Austin, Texas, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., districts outperformed their peers in other urban districts and met or exceeded national averages on the 2005 NAEP in the two subjects, according to the Trial Urban District Assessment, released Dec. 1. The 4th and 8th graders in nine other urban districts scored below the national average in both subjects, but students in several of the districts showed statistically significant increases in scale scores and in the proportion of students demonstrating at least basic skills since the last time the special study was done in 2003.

The most improvement was seen on the math test, with eight districts showing higher average scores among 4th graders and four districts registering improvements for 8th graders since 2003. Reading scores in seven of the districts rose by several points—on the 500-point NAEP scale—among 4th graders in that time. Although most of those gains were not considered statistically significant, they should be seen as part of a positive trend, said Mr. Casserly, whose organization had requested the special urban study.

“If you could get 5-point gains on NAEP in reading [for any urban district], that’s substantial, even if it didn’t pass the statistical threshold,” he said. Mr. Casserly also noted that in several of the districts, many more students moved from the “below basic” level to “basic” in reading, and larger proportions of students demonstrated proficiency in math.

Many Are ‘Below Basic’

Achievement gaps between white students and their minority peers remained, and in some places were quite large. The District of Columbia, for example, showed a 76-point gap between white and black 8th graders in math. In reading, there was a 65-point difference in the average scale score for white 4th graders vs. their African-American peers in the nation’s capital. Gaps between white and Hispanic students were also large in most districts, though generally less dramatic.

Public school students in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Diego were all assessed under the program, with representative samples of students taking the tests last spring. The report also includes results from the District of Columbia reported earlier this fall as part of the NAEP state report, for comparison purposes.

Students in the nation’s cities rarely reach proficiency in the subjects by 8th grade. In fact, large proportions of the students cannot demonstrate even partial mastery over the subject matter, according to the report. The NAEP achievement levels—“below basic,” “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced”—are based on rigorous standards. But the levels are not aligned to states’ own definitions of “proficient.”

In reading, some 60 percent or more of 4th graders and more than half of 8th graders in Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and the District of Columbia failed to demonstrate basic understanding of the material. In most cities, however, those figures represent improvements over the 2003 results.

The urban district study allows officials and experts to make some comparisons between student performance in those cities, to track any changes, and to learn more about school-improvement practices that appear to be working and those that do not, according to Mr. Casserly.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
When SEL Curriculum Is Not Enough: Integrating Social-Emotional Behavior Supports in MTSS
Help ensure the success of your SEL program with guidance for building capacity to support implementation at every tier of your MTSS.
Content provided by Illuminate Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Whitepaper
Empowering personalized instruction with a three-tiered approach to learning evidence
Navvy is the first classroom assessment system designed to empower personalized learning by providing granular, reliable, and proximal le...
Content provided by Pearson
Assessment Letter to the Editor We Need NAEP
The president and CEO of Knowledge Alliance responds to a recent opinion essay's criticism of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Assessment Letter to the Editor 2022 Assessment ‘Most Important’ Ever
The executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board responds to criticism of NAEP in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Assessment Opinion Ignore NAEP. Better Yet, Abolish It
We’ve got to stop testing schools to death, writes Al Kingsley. National (and international) tests won't “fix” education.
Al Kingsley
5 min read
conceptual illustration of a ruler measuring a figure
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty images