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NAEP SCORES FOR LARGE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICTS REVEAL LARGER ACHIEVEMENT GAPS: Percentage of Students Reading “Below Basic” Over 50 Percent in Some Cities

Rating
"For the most part, we stop teaching our children how to read when they leave third grade, and expect that they'll continue to expand vocabulary and comprehension skills on their own."

Eighth-grade students in the nation’s urban areas are more likely to read at the “below basic” level than their peers in other parts of the country, according to the latest results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 Mathematics and Reading Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The report, called the “Nation’s Report Card,” said that average scores went up over the last 2 years in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego, but went down in Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Average scores were unchanged in Atlanta and Cleveland. The report also found larger achievement gaps in these cities between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates than those that exist nationally.

“Although there is an increasing awareness of the need to improve the literacy levels of our country’s middle and high school students, and more understanding of the kinds of interventions that can make a difference,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, “the results reported today for the eleven cities clearly demonstrate that we still are not doing what is needed to help students throughout the nation to build the reading skills they need to deal with increasingly complex high school courses.”

The report found that the average score for each city district was lower than the average score for the nation, except in Austin and Charlotte, where the average scores were about the same. Compared with students in “large central cities” defined as a large central city with a population at or above 250,000 students in Austin, Boston, Charlotte, and San Diego posted higher average scores, while students in Atlanta, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Houston, and Los Angeles scored lower, on average. As the chart below demonstrates, districts with lower than average scores tended to have more students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, while the opposite was true for districts with higher than average scores.

District
Average Score
Difference from Nation
Difference from Large Central City
Percent of Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch
Nation
260
N/A
+10
39%
Large central city
250
-10
N/A
63%
Charlotte
259
-1
+9
45%
Austin
257
-3
+7
49%
San Diego
253
-7
+3
54%
Boston
253
-7
+3
76%
New York City
251
-9
+1
84%
Chicago
249
-11
-1
81%
Houston
248
-12
-2
71%
Cleveland
240
-20
-10
100%
Atlanta
240
-20
-10
74%
Los Angeles
239
-21
-11
78%
District of Columbia
238
-22
-12
70%

 

The report also found that city school districts had higher percentages of students reading below basic, which indicates that students are often unable to comprehend the vocabulary or content of the material in their textbooks. This inability to access upper-level material affects more than their achievement in English and language arts classes; it also prevents students from mastering content in science, history, and even algebra. These students are especially significant, because research has shown that they are more likely to drop out of school than students reading at the highest achievement level.

Among the 11 city districts assessed, only Charlotte, with 31 percent of its students reading below basic, was close to the national average of 29 percent. Austin (35 percent), San Diego (37 percent), Boston (39 percent), New York City (39 percent), Chicago (40 percent), and Houston (41 percent) were at or below the average percentage of students reading below basic for large central cities (40 percent). In Cleveland (51 percent), Atlanta (54 percent), Los Angeles (53 percent), and Washington, D.C. (55 percent), a higher percentage of eighth graders read below basic than at the basic, proficient, and advanced levels combined.

“For the most part, we stop teaching our children how to read when they leave third grade, and expect that they’ll continue to expand vocabulary and comprehension skills on their own,” Wise said. “While this may work for some students, others, especially those from low-income families, never make the necessary transition from learning to read to reading to learn. The investments made in early grades to teach our kids to read are critical, but we must continue to intervene throughout their school years to assure that they are maintaining and expanding the literacy skills that are so necessary for success in life.”

The report also revealed that achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates in the 11 cities assessed are wider than at the national level. In most cases, white students in the 11 city districts score higher than their white peers at the national level, while black and Hispanic students score lower. Most disturbing is the 66 percent achievement gap between white students and black students in Washington, D.C.; the white-Hispanic gap, at 54 percent, is only slightly better. (Keep in mind that these scores are for public school students only and do not include any students who attend private schools.)

District
White
Score
Black
Score
Gap
Hispanic
Score
Gap
Asian
Score
Gap
Nation
269
242
-27
245
-24
270
+1
Large central city
270
240
-30
243
-27
266
-4
District of Columbia
301
235
-66
247
-54
*
N/A
Houston
280
242
-38
245
-35
*
N/A
Austin
279
242
-37
243
-36
*
N/A
Charlotte
278
244
-34
248
-30
*
N/A
Boston
274
244
-30
248
-26
280
+6
San Diego
273
242
-31
241
-32
265
-8
Chicago
270
240
-30
251
-19
*
N/A
New York City
269
241
-28
247
-22
271
+2
Los Angeles
261
234
-27
235
-26
262
+1
Cleveland
255
236
-19
248
-7
*
N/A
Atlanta
*
237
N/A
*
N/A
*
N/A

*Reporting standards not met.

The complete report is available at http://nationsreportcard.gov/tuda_reading_mathematics_2005/.

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