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City Scores on National Tests Stay Flat

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 01:00 PM

(albertogp123/flickr)

New York City’s performance on national math and reading tests for fourth- and eighth-grade students remained relatively flat last year, according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

Federal officials on Wednesday released scores for 21 urban school districts. Compared to other large cities, New York City posted average scores on the math exams for both grades and for the reading tests in eighth grade. New York City showed slightly above average scores in fourth-grade reading.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said the 2013 results showed that student performance in large cities continued to improve overall and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.

“While we still have a lot of work to do to close achievement gaps in our largest cities, this progress is encouraging,” he said in a statement. “It means that in 2013, tens of thousands of additional students in large cities are Proficient or above in math and reading than was the case four years earlier.”

Only the District of Columbia showed gains on all four exams compared to 2011, when the tests were last administered, though that district remains well below average for large cities. Los Angeles made gains on three of four tests since 2011, with overall scores that also remain lower than average for large cities.

The exams, commonly referred to as the nation’s report card, are considered to be the best measure for comparing states and districts nationwide and the most consistent measure of educational progress. The National Center for Education Statistics began administering both math and reading tests in 2003 every two years to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students.

New York City’s scores, like all urban districts, have improved overall since the tests were first administered, though achievement gaps between black and Latino students and their white counterparts remain nearly the same. And the city, like most urban districts, trailed national averages. New York also posted lower scores than New York State as a whole.

Here's how the New York City scores shake out, on a scale of zero to 500:

  • Fourth-grade math: The average score was 236 in 2013, compared to 234 in 2011. The difference in scores is not considered statistically significant.
  • Eighth-grade math: The average score was 274 in 2013, compared to 272 in 2011. The difference in scores is not considered statistically significant.
  • Fourth-grade reading: The average score was 216 in 2013, and was also 216 in 2011.
  • Eighth-grade reading:The average scores was 256 in 2013, compared to 254 in 2011. The different in scores is not considered statistically significant.

New York City’s Department of Education was quick to point out the district’s performance compared to other urban district’s with similar populations of high-need students. New York City has consistently outperformed districts including Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia and Los Angeles over a 10-year period, according to the D.O.E.

But Shael Polakow-Suranksy, the city’s chief academic officer, acknowledged that some of those cities saw higher levels of growth compared to New York City.

“Part of what that suggests, as we’ve seen with our progress report data, is as you get to higher levels of performance it gets harder to make growth,” he said.

But Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union and an outspoken critic of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, argued the city has not seen more progress on these national exams because it has created a test-prep culture in schools, with high-stakes decisions attached to state test scores.

"The formative assessment, which NAEP is, is specifically designed to combat schools that use test prep," said Mulgrew. He added that the city's Department of Education should have focused on developing a more rigorous curriculum and supporting teachers.

"If they were serious about moving forward with the NAEP they would have done this work years ago," he said. "Instead, they continued to invest more and more money into computer systems and the accountability department at the Department of Ed which has nothing to do with actually moving forward educational programs."

Polakow-Suransky said that he expected the rate of growth to increase with the implementation of the Common Core learning standards and with the city’s new teacher evaluation system.

“If our implementation works over the next two years as we actually sort of go through this process with our teachers of strengthening the curriculum and strengthening how they’re teaching, that should show up here,” he said, since the Common Core was built with NAEP in mind.

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