NYC Students Post Modest Gains in National Math Exams

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New York City students have not made substantial gains on a national math test in the last two years. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have increased since 2003, but flattened since 2007.

Thirty five percent of fourth graders were proficient this year, compared with 34 percent in 2007, the last time the federal math test was given. In the eighth grade, just 26 percent of students were considered proficient.

While that's an improvement over the 22 percent who attained proficiency benchmarks in 2007, it's a far cry from the big gains eighth graders made this year on their state math exams. On that test, 71 percent showed proficiency in math. The discrepencies are certain to fuel the arguments of skeptics who believe the schools have not made the big gains claimed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg since he took control of the school system.

NYU Professor Diane Ravitch is a former U.S. Assistant Education secretary. Ravitch, appearing on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, says "it's fair to say looking at these numbers there has been no change in the achievement gap. There has been improvement in the six-year period, none in the last two years."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says a national test isn't as useful as a state test to assess progress because students in different states have different math courses.

"I still would argue that the tests that really tell you whether or not our school system is doing better is the statewide test because everybody in the state teaches the same subjects in the same year," Bloomberg says.

The mayor says compared to the rest of the state, city students have shown gains. But he says the state government, which sets the math curriculum for all students, might want to consider making math courses more rigorous overall.

The federal government released the scores for big cities today, after releasing state by state results earlier this fall. New York City students continued to perform higher than the average for big cities. Austin and Charlotte had the highest urban scores.

For more on what the test scores mean, read Beth Fertig's The Politics of Math: About Those National Tests… on the WNYC News Blog.