Students in selected city schools are making modest gains on math and reading tests, but they continue to lag their counterparts nationwide, scores released Thursday show.
Eleven urban school districts volunteered to have their students take the tests and be compared with students across the country. The districts were: Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Houston; Los Angeles; New York; San Diego; and Washington.
Generally, the students in the urban districts scored lower, on average, than the nation. Only Austin and Charlotte posted average scores that mirrored public schools nationally or were higher in some cases.
The city school districts have higher concentrations of minority and low-income students than schools nationwide. Students from these groups tend to score lower on achievement tests than others.
A goal of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law is to reduce achievement gaps between minority and white students and low-income kids and their wealthier peers.
Tests have staff consequences
The law is mainly focused on reading and math and requires schools to test students annually in those subjects and face consequences for missing testing benchmarks. The consequences include, but aren't limited to, having to replace teachers or principals.
Schools have to report test scores by subgroups of students and must show progress is being made. All kids are supposed to be working at grade level by 2014.
Atlanta and Washington were the only districts to see their scores rise significantly over the past two years on the fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests as well as the math tests for both grades.
Both districts, particularly Washington, excluded more kids with limited English skills and disabilities from some tests this year. They weren't alone in taking that action, which can sometimes lead to higher test scores.
Atlanta school superintendent Beverly Hall attributed her district's progress to high-quality professional development for teachers, the recruitment of strong principals, and more time devoted to reading and math.
"If students are taught well, they will learn," Hall said. "I don't think it's rocket science. I don't think there's any quick fix."
Scores from 'Nation's report card'
The scores are from the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given nationwide periodically on a range of subjects. Known as "the nation's report card," it is considered the best way to compare student achievement across state and district lines.
Math and reading scores released in September for students nationally showed students overall are improving steadily in math but making slower progress in reading.
"These urban districts pretty well mimic the nation," said Darvin Winick, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests. "Reading is up. Math is up more."
More specifically, the results show:
- Atlanta, Boston, New York and Washington posted higher fourth-grade math scores this year than in 2005, the previous time the tests were given. Cleveland saw its scores drop, while the rest of the districts had flat scores.
- In eighth-grade math, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington had higher scores than two years ago. There was no change for the other districts.
- Atlanta and Washington saw their fourth-grade reading scores go up in the two-year period, while Houston scores declined. Scores were flat in the other districts.
- On the eighth-grade reading test, Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston and Washington saw their scores increase from 2005. Scores were flat elsewhere.
Some districts that failed to show progress since 2005 did improve when compared over a longer term. For example, while Los Angeles showed no improvement in eighth-grade reading in the past two years, it posted a higher score this year than in 2002.