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Students score below average on tests
U.S. National - AP

Students Score Below Average on Tests
Wed Dec 17, 3:54 PM ET Add U.S. National - AP to My Yahoo!

By BEN FELLER, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON - Students in some of the nation's largest urban school districts score below the national average on federal math and reading tests, new scores show. Yet in these urban centers, where large numbers of disadvantaged kids live, students compete well when compared with peers elsewhere of the same race, ethnicity or economic level.

AP Photo

Ten school districts volunteered to set the city benchmark in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, regarded as the nation's report card on a range of subjects. The goal is to give these cities a valid way to compare themselves with areas that share problems and population trends, and to track their progress on a test known for its stringent scoring.

Education officials say the new scores reflect expanded efforts by urban districts to help children succeed despite language barriers, crowded conditions and poverty. The results, however, also underscore how much ground schools must gain in raising achievement for all.

Across the country, in reading, only 30 percent of fourth-graders and eighth-graders reach at least the key level, proficient, which means competency over difficult material. In math, 31 percent of fourth-graders and 27 percent of eighth-graders do at least that well.

In almost every case, the city students did worse. That means less than three out of 10 students achieved at the level they should have, based on federal standards.

The sole exception was Charlotte, N.C., where students met the national average in reading and exceeded it in math. Charlotte has far fewer minorities than the other areas, and black and Hispanic students typically score below whites on standardized tests. Fixing that disparity, known as the achievement gap, is the focus of sweeping new federal education law.

The urban districts in the sample account for one out of eight of the nation's poor students, one out of seven minority students and one out of six students with limited English skills.

The variation in scores among districts with similar populations shows how much state and district policies affect student learning, said Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, which advocates for poor and minority students. Charlotte, for example, has been successful in enrolling more black students in high-level math courses, he said.

The other districts involved were Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego. The District (news - web sites) of Columbia was included for comparison, although its results were released earlier with state and national numbers.

Urban districts are finding more success in turning education into a community priority, said Marla Ucelli of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. The Institute is working (news - web sites) with Chicago, New York and other districts that took part in the tests.

"When people in the community begin paying attention to what happens to groups of kids, that means people outside the system feel accountable for what happens in it," said Ucelli, director of district redesign. That, in turn, puts a focus on equity for students, she said.

Teachers and staff need to change their assumptions about whether inner-city students can achieve, said the Rev. Gregory Groover of Charles Street A.M.E. church in Boston.

"These students, in spite of what they're going through, or what they lack in terms of housing or health care they have the ability to achieve proficiency," he said.

Overall, Charlotte, New York City, San Diego, Boston and Houston had the highest percentages of students performing at a proficient level or better.

Darvin Winick, chairman of the independent board that oversees the test, said the scores should erode the myth that students in urban districts can't compete. City comparisons to national averages can obscure the fact that, in a few cases, black students in the cities scored better than blacks nationwide, as also was the case for some Hispanic students.

This is the first time in the test's history, which dates to 1969, that district scores are available in math.

Six of the cities took part in the first district-level reading tests in 2002, and two of them showed significant gains over the last year Chicago in grade four and Atlanta in grade eight. Large central cities, overall, also improved in fourth-grade reading.

"We know we still have a long way to go, but it is more clear than ever that the reforms that urban schools are pursuing are making a difference where it matters most, student achievement," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of urban districts.


On the Net (news - web sites):

National Assessment of Educational Progress: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard

— Ben Feller
A.P. News on the web


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