Student scores are up in many urban school districts
December 7th, 2011
10:15 AM ET

Student scores are up in many urban school districts

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Math scores in some urban school districts are improving faster than the nation as a whole according to a report released Wednesday by the National Assessment Governing Board that compares math and reading scores for fourth and eighth graders.

"We continue to narrow the differences between urban school districts and the nation at large," said Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools.

Large city school districts tend to have higher numbers of students considered to be at risk than their suburban counterparts because the students often come from lower-income households or are from black or Hispanic families, groups that traditionally score lower than whites on standardized tests.

"Despite their distinct challenges, many of these districts are making steady progress in math. But, like school districts nationwide, they need to find ways to raise student achievement in reading," said David Driscoll of the National Assessment Governing Board. Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Baltimore and Philadelphia improved their scores in grade four mathematics, while Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Detroit; the District of Columbia and Jefferson County, Kentucky, improved their grade eight mathematics scores when compared to the last assessment two years ago. Charlotte also had an increase in its eighth grade reading scores compared to the 2009 assessment.

In a call with reporters before the release of the study, Casserly was asked about the numbers for Atlanta in light of the reports of teachers changing student responses on the Georgia state standardized tests.

"There appeared because of the state investigative report that there was cheating by some teachers on the state test but at the same time what you saw by way of reform in the school district was real," said Casserly. "There's no reason to believe that the results on the national assessment should be called into question at all."

Some large school districts have shown improvement over the long run while others have not. Analyzing data from 2009 and before for Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cleveland, the Council for Great City Schools found that the instructional practices of the first three districts were quite different than those for Cleveland, which showed lower performance and lower gains.

Differences were found in areas including leadership and reform vision, accountability, curriculum and instruction, teacher quality and use of data and assessments.

Not all large cities take part in the comparisons. Twenty-one districts volunteered to have their scores compared in the 2011 assessment, including Atlanta; Austin; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte-Mecklenburg; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; District of Columbia; Fresno, California; Houston; Jefferson County (Louisville, Kentucky); Los Angeles; Miami-Dade County; Milwaukee; New York; San Diego; Philadelphia and, for the first time, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dallas and Hillsborough County, Florida.

The National Assessment Governing Board is a congressionally authorized bipartisan board that sets policy for the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP).  Also known at the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP assesses what students know through testing on a national scale and operates under the Department of Education.

The full Trial Urban District Assessment report is available at

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Testing
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. efavorite

    I’m checking stories on the Urban district NAEP scores and so far find that CSM, Slate and now CNN do not comment on the reform miracle that was supposed to happen in DC by now. So I’ll implore CNN to write about it, as I have some of the others.

    Just a couple of years ago it was all the rage to boast about the bold reforms being made in DC.
    If scores had gone up there, Michelle Rhee and her Deputy Kaya Henderson who succeeded her would be praised to the heavens for firing veteran teachers, hiring energetic amateurs, paying students for attendance and behavior, raising all teachers' salaries, firing half the principals, devising a teacher evaluation system that rids the system of teachers rated "ineffective" and gives merit pay to teachers rated "highly effective."

    But scores didn't go up – they went mostly down or flat in both the local and national standardized tests and DC has the widest achievement gap in the country. Isn’t that a story worth reporting?

    In February of this year, Henderson, at a Teach for America conference, said: "We are making history right here in the nation's capital...Some of you think it's over, it isn't over ..we're just getting started....this is the revolution that we all dreamed about...we went through a bloody battle to build a firm foundation so that we can provide these students with the education they deserve." Full speech at:

    It sounds pretty scary. Perhaps CNN could do an article asking her what she meant by that and what her plans are for the district after her administration’s failure so far. Be sure to include Michelle Rhee. She started all this and is now a national star making thousands going around the country giving speeches on her school reform methods.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:37 pm |