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Study finds upward trend in urban schools.

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.

Paul Vallas, chief executive officer of the School District of Philadelphia, also saw dramatic growth last year in the nation's eighth largest school system.

"Thanks to the hard work of our students, teachers, principals and staff in embracing our standardized curriculum and data-driven decision making," Vallas said, "we were able to increase the number of schools meeting the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements of No Child Left Behind from 58 to 160."


Casserly gives "some credit" to both the federal No Child Left Behind law and to the increased funding associated with it for the urban school progress in recent years.

"No Child Left Behind is not the only thing behind our gains," he said.

"Urban educators are working harder and smarter than I have seen them work in the 28 years I have been at the council," Casserly explained. "They deserve the lion's share of the credit."

The council's fifth annual report on "Beating the Odds" gives city-by-city analysis of how inner-city schools are performing on the academic goals and standards set by their respective states to measure student achievement and to hold districts and schools accountable for results.

Although urban schools show gains in math and reading performance, the big cities still lag behind state and national averages. However, three major urban school districts--Albuquerque, Anchorage and San Francisco--had higher math and reading scores than their states in all grades tested.

"Beating the Odds" also presents data on racially identifiable achievement gaps, language proficiency, disability and income--as well as urban school demographic conditions and funding.

Details: The report is available at

Henry Duvall is editor of the "Urban Educator," a newsletter published by the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the nation's largest urban public school systems.
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Title Annotation:"Beating the Odds V," by the Council of the Great City Schools
Author:Duvall, Henry
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 16, 2005
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