Students in Urban Schools do Better in Math and Reading

Students in urban schools are doing better
in reading and math, even in Atlanta, which has been embroiled in a
cheating scandal on state exams.


Federal officials said
there was no evidence that the cheating had carried over to the
National Assessment of Educational Progress – called the “Nation’s
Report Card” – and that Atlanta fourth- and eighth-graders have made
substantial gains since 2002.

The national
test is administered by independent officials rather than by the school
district. Atlanta is one of 21 urban districts that volunteered to be
part of the federal testing program, which is congressionally mandated
to gauge how students are performing using a uniform measure.

Federal
officials warned against comparing the urban districts that
participated in the national test because they vary widely in student
makeup, teacher experience and culture. Still, the urban districts’
results mirror results released in a national report last month –
students made progress in math but their reading scores have mostly
remained stagnant in the last two years.

Since 2002, though, reading scores have climbed steadily in most participating cities for fourth- and eighth-graders.

“Urban
schools in general are getting better. But we are determined to make
them better still,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the
Council of the Great City Schools. “We are not satisfied but we believe
that we are on the right track – and the new NAEP data bolster our
confidence.”

In Atlanta, 24 percent of
fourth-graders are proficient in reading, compared to 11 percent in 2002
and 21 percent two years ago, according to the report. Those scores
outpace the national average for urban districts, which is 23 percent
proficiency.

Eighth-grade math students hit 16
percent proficiency, up from just 6 percent in 2003 and 11 percent two
years ago. But that trails the urban district average of 26 percent.

“The
travesty of all of this is there are more and more indicators that
suggest the system did not have to cheat,” Atlanta schools
Superintendent Erroll Davis, who took over in July, told The Associated
Press. “The educational achievement levels are not near where we want
them to be, but we are continuing adding value at rates faster than
other systems are adding value.”

Elsewhere:

-In
Boston, 27 percent of fourth-graders passed muster in reading, compared
to 15 percent in 2002. And 33 percent of eighth-graders were proficient
in math, compared to 18 percent in 2003.

-Chicago
saw 20 percent of fourth-graders score at the proficient level in math,
compared to 10 percent in 2003, while 20 percent of eighth-graders
passed muster, compared to just 9 percent eight years prior.

-For
Detroit, where the troubled school district is being run by the state,
there were small gains since 2009 – the first year the district
participated in NAEP – but the numbers are still lagging behind many
other districts: 69 percent of fourth-graders scored below basic in
reading, and just four percent of eighth-graders passed muster in math.

In
July, Georgia investigators found widespread cheating in nearly half of
Atlanta’s 100 schools on state standardized tests dating back to 2001.
Tens of thousands of students were affected by what experts say is the
largest test cheating scandal in U.S. history. Investigators said nearly
180 educators gave answers to students, changed answers on tests after
students had turned them in or ordered subordinates to cheat. Teachers
who tried to report the cheating were retaliated against and punished,
creating a culture of “fear and intimidation” in the district,
investigators reported.

The educators face
possible criminal charges and could lose their teaching licenses. So
far, eight teachers and three school administrators have lost their
certification with the state. Many of the educators had resigned or
retired when the report was released over the summer, but the ones
remaining have been placed on leave and are in the process of being
fired.

But the national test scores show that most Atlanta students were learning despite the cheating on the state test, experts said.

“The
NAEP results represent the district as a whole, not this school or that
school where there might have been cheating occurring,” said Cornelia
Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board,
which administers the test. “I don’t think you can assume that because
it went on with a certain group of students in certain schools, gains
were not across the board.”

The national test
doesn’t come with the same pressure as the state tests, which are used
to determine whether a school meets federal benchmarks, experts said.
And the students who take the test are chosen by federal officials to
create a sample that represents the entire district.

The
testing problems in Atlanta schools first came to light after The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were
statistically improbable. The state released audits of test results
after the newspaper published its analysis.

A
state probe also has led to an investigation by the U.S. education
department’s Office of Inspector General and the Georgia Department of
Education, which says the district could owe thousands in federal money
for low-income schools that have high test scores.

Source: Dorie Turner, The Associated Press

Follow Dorie Turner at http://www.twitter.com/dorieturner .