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BEATING THE ODDS: Urban School Districts Make Gains Under No Child Left Behind, According to New Report

A new report from the Council of the Great City Schools found that fourth- and eighth-grade students in the nation’s big-city school systems have advanced substantially over last year and are posting significant gains in math and reading on state-mandated assessments. As the study put it, “Urban education may be establishing a beachhead on the rocky shoals of school reform.”

While urban schools as a group continue to score below state and national averages in mathematics and reading, the report found that math and reading scores are improving in urban districts, and, in many cases, at a rate faster than their states as a whole. In math, 53.1 percent of the Great City School districts increased scores in more than half of the grades tested, at a faster rate than did their states. In reading, 34.7 percent of Great City School districts accomplished the feat. The study also found that the achievement gaps in math and reading between white students and their African-American and Hispanic classmates have begun to narrow.

In math, 51 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above “proficient,” an almost 7 percent gain over 2002. Gains among eighth graders were not as pronounced, but scores still rose 3 percentage points, from 36.4 percent to 39.4 percent. In reading, 47.8 percent of fourth-grade urban school students scored at or above “proficient,” a 4.9 percentage point increase over 2002. Eighth graders scored 37.9 percent in reading, a 1.1 percent increase over 2002.

“The improvements, particularly at the fourth-grade level, are real,” said the Council’s executive director, Michael Casserly. “Urban schools are working harder and smarter than ever before and the efforts of lots of dedicated urban educators are starting to bear fruit.” Appearing at the Council’s annual conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said that NCLB “has now begun a process of reform that will make the educational system more inclusive, fair and just.”

The study presents data on sixty-one city school systems from thirty-seven states. It compares 2003 state test scores with those in 2002 on a city-by-city, year-by-year, and grade-by-grade basis for each state test in mathematics and reading.

The complete report is available at

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