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BEATING THE ODDS: New Report Finds that Urban School Districts Are Improving Student Outcomes but Still Trailing State Averages

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“The study presents the best available picture of how American’s urban public schools are performing on state tests and strongly suggests that they are making substantial progress in both reading and mathematics.”

According to a new report from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), students in the nation’s biggest cities are improving their performance on state and national tests but are still scoring below state averages. However, the report, Beating the Odds: Analysis of Student Performance on State Assessments and NAEP, also finds that urban districts are demonstrating faster growth in improving math and reading scores than are states.

“The study presents the best available picture of how American’s urban public schools are performing on state tests and strongly suggests that they are making substantial progress in both reading and mathematics,” says CGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly. “But there’s still a long road ahead as urban schools are making noticeable gains.”

 

beating the odds

 

The study finds that 88 percent of districts increased the percentage of eighth-grade students who scored at or above proficient in math between 2006 and 2009. Additionally, approximately 60 percent of districts have exhibited faster growth than states in improving eighth-grade mathematic scores. However, in 2009, only 11 percent of urban districts had eighth-grade proficiency rates that were equal to or greater than their respective state, a decline of 7 percent since 2006, as shown in the chart above.

In reading, 71 percent of urban districts increased the percentage of eighth-grade students who scored at or above proficient between 2006 and 2009, and over one quarter of the districts increased the percentage of eighth-graders who scored at or above proficient by greater than 10 percentage points. Moreover, about 49 percent of districts have exhibited faster rates of improvement in increasing eighth-grade reading scores than have states. Yet urban districts continued to trail state averages. Only 10 percent of Great City School districts had eighth-grade reading proficiency rates that were equal to or greater than their states.

 

beating the odds2

 

Beating the Odds also finds that racial and achievement gaps are improving in urban areas.1 In eighth-grade math, 62 percent of urban school districts narrowed the achievement gap between black students in their district and their respective state average for white students; 69 percent did so for Hispanic and white students; and 60 percent narrowed the gap between their economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students.

The progress in narrowing the achievement gap in eighth-grade reading was slightly less significant. Fifty-three percent of urban school districts narrowed the achievement gap between black students in their district and their respective state average for white students; 53 percent narrowed the gap between Hispanic and white students; and 43 percent narrowed the gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students.

The report also compares urban student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progess (NAEP) with national student performance on the test. At the eighth-grade level in math, the percentage of students from large cities who scored at or above proficient increased from 19 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2009. Nationally, eighth graders who scored at or above proficient increased 5 percentage points—28 percent in 2005 to 33 percent in 2009. There were several big city school districts that outperformed schools nationwide in mathematics. For example, 39 percent of Austin’s eighth graders scored at or above proficient. However, from 2005 to 2007, there was no progress observed nationally or in large city schools in eighth-grade reading.

In total, the study represents sixty-five city school systems in thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia. To read the complete report, visit http://www.cgcs.org/Pubs/BT9.pdf.

1 The report defines achievement gaps as the difference between the proficiency rates of a given student group in the district and their comparison group statewide. This method was employed to avoid pitting students in the same district against one another and to take into account that some cities have very few white or economically advantaged students to count toward the comparison.

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