Some Urban Progress in Math NAEPPosted on: 12/8/2009
Fourth and 8th graders in the country’s large cities have made progress in math over the past two years as measured by a national test, but the performance in several urban areas was stagnant—and in some cases, lagged behind that of other districts by vast margins.
By one measure, advocates for urban schools could be encouraged by the results on the Trial Urban District Assessment, a special administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Scores among students in the “large city” category, or areas with populations of 250,000 or more, rose by statistically relevant margins in both grades 4 and 8 between 2007 and 2009, continuing an upward trend from six years ago, when the NAEP urban test was first given.
But the results among 11 individual cities that voluntarily participated in both the 2007 and 2009 exams were less impressive.
Just two of those districts made statistically significant gains during the past two years in grade 4: Boston and the District of Columbia. In grade 8, only Austin, Texas, and San Diego made statistically relevant gains. Scores among the other cities were flat statistically.
Urban districts face enormous socioeconomic and educational challenges compared with the nation’s schools as a whole—including high poverty, large numbers of English-language learners, and frequently teachers with lesser qualifications. While 48 percent of 4th graders tested nationwide were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, for instance, 71 percent in the large-city category met that threshold, and the percentage in several individual districts was much higher.
“We’re encouraged, but not satisfied by the large cities’ results,” said Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington organization that seeks to improve urban education. But Mr. Casserly also said the scores were a reminder for urban school leaders to “gauge our progress and evaluate our reforms.”
Eleven urban districts took part in both the 2009 test and the 2007 exams. In addition to Austin, Boston, the District of Columbia, and San Diego, the school districts in Atlanta, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York had their 4th and 8th graders tested.
For the latest testing cycle, seven new districts signed up: Baltimore; Detroit; Fresno, Calif.; Jefferson County, Ky. (home to Louisville); Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Milwaukee; and Philadelphia.
Despite the scrutiny that comes with the test, and low scores on it, urban districts have shown a strong interest in taking part in the trial urban NAEP, said Mr. Casserly, who has recruited them to do so.
“I still have districts standing in line,” he said. For city school officials, he explained, the trial urban NAEP is appealing because it gives them the ability to compare themselves “on a common metric” with districts with similar challenges.
Some urban districts continued their recent gains on the urban NAEP. San Diego has raised its 8th grade scores by 8 points since 2007, and by 16 points since 2003. The city’s 4th grade scores remain statistically unchanged from two years ago. The District of Columbia made the largest gains of any urban system at the 4th grade level over the past two years—6 points since 2007. Its marks have climbed 15 points since 2003.
While some of the new participants scored at roughly the same level as other large cities in the study, others, like Detroit, produced results well below even their urban counterparts’. Detroit scored 200 in grade 4 on a 500-point NAEP scale, compared with 239 for the nation as a whole and 231 among large cities. Sixty-nine percent of Detroit students scored “below basic” on the 4th grade NAEP, a much higher proportion than the next-lowest-performing district in that category, Cleveland, at 49 percent.
Detroit schools have been plagued by low achievement and financial problems for years. Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, appointed Robert C. Bobb as emergency financial manager for the city schools. Mr. Bobb has since ordered a major restructuring of the 84,000-student district, closing struggling schools and closely scrutinizing the budget. Mr. Casserly, who recently spoke with Detroit school officials about the NAEP results, said the city will need “a broad coalition of folks to come together” to turn around its system.
The test judged students from participating urban districts in five main content areas of mathematics: number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra. Representative samples of between 900 and 2,200 4th graders and between 900 and 2,100 8th graders were tested in each district; those numbers correspond with district enrollment.
The districts are demographically diverse, though they generally serve a much higher proportion of minority students than the nation as a whole. For instance, 54 percent of the 4th grade students in the overall, national pool of students tested on the NAEP were white, but among urban districts, the percentage ranged from 53 percent in Jefferson County to just 3 percent in Detroit.
David P. Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the federally sponsored NAEP, praised the urban districts for taking part in the test and for "their willingness to be held to high standards."
“The report points to some leaders that have made significant strides in student achievement,” Mr. Driscoll, a former state education commissioner in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “While much remains to be done to increase achievement and narrow gaps between groups, we hope to learn more from these cities.”
Source: Education Week
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