By Duvall, Henry
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 28, No. 20
Are urban schools improving academically? Or, is urban academic performance stagnant?
The nation's urban school districts appear to be solidifying and expanding gains on state-mandated assessments according to "Beating the Odds V," a report released recently by the Council of the Great City Schools,
Students in 65 city school systems in 38 states have posted new gains in math and reading on the state assessments from not only a year ago, when urban school progress was cited in evaluating the inaugural year of the federal No Child Left Behind law, but also stretching back to 2001.
Between the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 school years, the percentage of urban fourth graders scoring at or above proficiency in mathematics on state tests rose from 44.1 to 55.3, an 11.2 percent increase.
For eighth graders, the percentage climbed from 36.5 to 43.8, a jump of 7.3 percent.
In reading, urban schoolchildren also posted gains, but not as fast as in math. From 2001-02 to 2003-04, the percentage of fourth graders scoring at or above proficiency in reading on state tests rose from 43.1 to 51.0--nearly an 8 percent increase.
For eighth graders, the percentage rose from 37.2 to 39.9, a little more than a two percentage point hike.
"The progress in urban schools is not a fluke," stressed Council Executive Director Michael Casserly. "It is consistent with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for large central cities and appears to show real headway by urban educators in raising student achievement."
"These findings would suggest that the work of urban educators to raise student achievement is paying off," said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. "Children held to high academic standards can perform--they just need to be given the chance."
Richmond and Philadelphia
"Failure is not an option," said Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman of Richmond, Va., Public Schools at a press conference to release the report. "In Richmond, we have committed ourselves at every level of the organization to ensuring that all of our students achieve at high levels.
"This commitment to using best practices, coupled with a dogged determination to excel, has propelled our improvement on our state assessments from 10 fully accredited schools in 2002 to 39 of our 51 schools in 2004," Jewell-Sherman added. …