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A FOCUS ON URBAN SCHOOLS: Latest NAEP Results Show Large Percentages of Urban Eighth Graders Reading Far Below Grade Level

"Eighth-grade students who are reading below grade level will enter their high school years without the basic skills they need to learn and achieve academic success," said Bob Wise

Of the eleven urban school districts that voluntarily participated in the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Trial Urban District Assessment (NAEP TUDA), the majority showed slight gains in math for both the fourth and eighth grades. However, scores in reading for most districts were not significantly different than those from 2005, when the test was last given, except in three districts for the fourth grade and four for the eighth grade. Furthermore, the data shows that, even when gains were made, students in urban districts tend to score far below the national averages in both grades and subjects tested.

The report from NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, provides assessment information for the school districts of Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Diego.

Focusing on eighth-grade reading in particular, results indicate that large percentages of students in each of the eleven districts lack the skills necessary for academic success. Nationally, 27 percent of eighth graders fell into this category, but in the urban districts highlighted, anywhere from 31 percent (Austin) to 52 percent (District of Columbia) did so.

“Eighth-grade students who are reading below grade level will enter their high school years without the basic skills they need to learn and achieve academic success,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The ability to read and comprehend is a major predictor of how well students will do as they progress through school. Without these skills, many fall further behind and drop out altogether.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg had the highest average eighth-grade reading score of the districts studied with 260 points, ten points higher than the large central city average and just one point shy of the national average. At the other end of the spectrum, Los Angeles had an average score of 240.

With a score of 245, Atlanta improved its average by five points since NAEP was last administered in 2005 and a total of nine points since 2002, an achievement that Robin C. Hall, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and principal of Atlanta’s Beecher Hill Elementary School, attributed to the “concentrated efforts we have made to improve our middle schools with a range of well-respected national reform models, strong accountability, and a strong belief that the children in these grades can learn.”

In math, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Austin shared the highest average score. At 283 points, they exceeded the large central city average by fourteen points and even the national average by three points. The District of Columbia’s average score was the lowest of any of the districts, at 248.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), a nonprofit organization that collaborated with the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment Governing Board in the establishment of the NAEP TUDA, agreed that progress that is being made, but he acknowledged that there is still work to be done.

Citing the achievement gap between white students and students of color that seems to be even wider in urban schools than in U.S. schools on average, he said, “We know that our gaps are still too wide. And we know we didn’t make much progress with our English language learners. But these NAEP data give us the tools we need to ask hard questions about our instructional practices.”

The complete reading and math results are available at

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