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Students in big-city schools show gains in latest NAEP 'report card'

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) National Report Card shows clear and positive trend lines for big-city schools, though the progress has been slow. 

By Staff writer / December 7, 2011



Students in America’s largest cities are making gains in math, in many cases faster than students in the nation as a whole.

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Reading scores in those large cities – just as in the nation – have largely remained flat for the past two years.

And in some cities – including Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, and Houston – students have made particularly striking gains over the past eight years, while in other cities progress has lagged.

Most notably, the gap between national scores and large-city scores is narrowing.

That’s the good news in the latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The release Wednesday provided detailed scores for students in 21 large cities – a voluntary subset that participates in NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Ten of those cities – Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, New York, Chicago, San Diego, Charlotte, N.C., Boston, and Cleveland – have participated at least since 2003, giving a decent picture of how their students have fared in that time.

“We’re now down to less than a 10 scale-point difference between [large cities] and the country in reading and math for both fourth and eighth grade,” says Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, noting that that gap has closed by 25 to 35 percent in the past eight years depending on which subject and grade are examined. “It’s clear we’re improving the numbers of kids at a proficient level and decreasing the numbers at the below-basic level – maybe not as fast as we would like, but it’s a convincing set of trend lines that tells us we’re heading in the right direction.”

The data also show wide differences in how cities perform.

One fourth-grade mathematics problem, for instance, asked students to do a four-digit subtraction problem. The percentage of students answering it correctly ranged from 41 percent in Detroit to 77 percent in Austin, Texas.

The average score for fourth-grade math ranges from 203 in Detroit to 247 in Charlotte (on a 500-point scale), with a national average of 240. And in Charlotte, 48 percent of fourth-graders performed at proficient or advanced, compared with 3 percent in Detroit.

The student populations also vary drastically by city.

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