On Nation’s Report Card, Atlanta improves in math, stagnates on reading

I listened two webcasts this week on the new NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading results for 21 urban districts that have volunteered to be part of pilot that highlights their performance. The NAEP tests serve as a common yardstick to compare district performance.

Atlanta is one of the districts that chose to be part of the pilot from its inception in 2002/2003. (The National Assessment of Educational Progress is often called the nation’s report card and is historically only released at the state level.) Atlanta has been praised for showing the most improvement since the trial began, a fact mentioned by two speakers today.

Atlanta showed its greatest growth in the earliest years of the trial. While it showed progress this time on math, it stagnated on reading, as did most of the districts and the nation as a whole.

Based on the results, we ought to be looking at how Austin and Charlotte are teaching math — they are not only outperforming their big city peers, they are outranking the nation.

The Trial Urban District Assessment is a representative sample and produces average scale scores and percentages of students at the NAEP achievement levels,  below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Advanced is a very rigorous level that few students in the nation meet. (There is a wealth of data on the TUDA districts, including the training and experience of the teachers.)

Here are the overall results:

• Only one of the 21 participating districts (Atlanta) saw higher scores for both fourth- and eighth-grade students in 2011 than in any previous mathematics assessment.

• Three districts have made gains since 2009 at grade 4 only (Austin, Baltimore City, and Philadelphia) and five districts have made gains since 2009 for grade 8 only [Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, the District of Columbia, and Jefferson County (KY)].

• Six districts recorded higher scores at both grades 4 and 8 than the averages for large city schools nationally: Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, and San Diego.

• Two districts recorded higher scores than the average for large city schools at grade 4 only: Jefferson County (KY) and Miami-Dade.

In READING in 2011:

• Although the average score for fourth-grade students in large city schools remained unchanged from 2009, it was higher than in 2002.

• The average score for eighth-graders in large city schools was higher in 2011 than both 2009 and 2002.

• None of the participating districts made gains at grade 4 since 2009; only one district (Charlotte) made gains at grade 8 compared to 2009 scores.

• Five districts recorded higher scores at both grades 4 and 8 than the averages for large city schools nationally: Austin, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Jefferson County (KY), and Miami-Dade.

On 4th grade math: While Atlanta has steadily raised its performance on 4th grade math, it still lags the average performance of large cities in the nation. However, Atlanta was one of four districts this time that showed significant improvement in math since 2009. It also showed a decrease in the number of students scoring below basic — but still 34 percent of its fourth graders are performing below basic in math.

On 8th grade math: Atlanta overall continues to be in the middle of the pack on its scores, but is among the districts improving steadily over time. Here, students are broken down by race. Confirming what we have noted here before, Atlanta does a very good job with its white students in 8th grade math as they ranked 4th in the TUDA.  It was noted in the Q&A that Atlanta has a very affluent white population still in its schools, which is different than some  cities.

One interesting note for the APS leadership to ponder: Atlanta has the lowest number of its eighth graders enrolled in algebra. Only 11 percent of 8th graders were enrolled, compared to a high of 77 percent in Hillsborough County, Fla., schools.

In reading, there was no statistical improvement in reading among any of the districts in the last two years. Atlanta’s average scores aligned with those of other big cities, meaning they lag the nation. While Atlanta’s 4th grade reading scores improved since 2002, there was no improvement in the last two years.

Insights were offered by panelists:

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of  the Great City Schools: He noted that there has been a net shift upward for math and reading and singled out Atlanta for showing the largest gains in any jurisdiction between 2002/2003 and the present.

He said, “Data are clear that we are closing the gap with the nation between 2003 and 2011. The reading gap between large cities and the naiton has narrowed 25 to 3o percent over the last eight years. In math, the difference between us and the nation at fourth grade has level has shrunk from 10 poins to 7 points. At 8th grade, the gao has narrowed from 14 points to 9. The Math gao has shrunk beweten 33 percent and 36 pernce tin just eight yers. It is clear that urban districts are are not only improving,but catching up,  I can see a day when your scores will be  the same as the nation, if not even better.

Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore schools:

Baltimore joined the trials because Alonso said he wanted his system compared to its true peers, other urban districts. He wanted to change “the nature of the conversation from making adequate yearly progress on standards that we knew were not adequate to the challenges of our kids to a different conversation; how we need to change teaching and learning, what did our kids need to know and do.”

Alonso singled out Atlanta in his comments: “Atlanta is one of those districts over time that has made huge movement.” He joked about Atlanta beating them in raising the performance of black males, for which Atlanta leads the pack. “We definitely aim to pass them in the next passage,” he said.

He also questioned age and experience of teachers, noting that Baltimore had the youngest teachers in its fourth grades and the highest rate of improvement. (You ought to look at the TUDA charts on teacher experience and degrees as they do not align with student performance on NAEP, which deserves some discussion.)

Baltimore only recently joined the trial, so it only has  a two-year trend to examine. “So wish I was part of that original group in 2003 because almost every single district has made significant progress,” he said. “The mere fact of participating in this study seemed to be a spur for systems to raise their game. I think our game has been raised.”

In an earlier webcast. David Driscoll discussed the general results for the urban schools. Much like the national results released earlier this year, he noted that urban districts saw some improvement in math, but not in reading. Driscoll is the former Commissioner of Education Massachusetts Department of Education  and is now on the NAEP Governing Board.

The most troubling result to Driscoll was the gap between poor and middle-class kids. He said we have to provide low-income kids with the kinds of resources that suburban children enjoy.

“They don’t have stimulation that suburban kids have in terms of books, libraries and activities. We see summer loss issues — gains during the year, and losses during the summer,” said Driscoll. “We better start taking serious our education results. If you look across the world, country after country is going by us.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

40 comments Add your comment


December 7th, 2011
11:54 am

Since the 60’s, at least, one social experiment after another has been tried in an attempt to equalize the test scores of poor and middle class kids. They have all failed. The reason is obvious but not politically correct. People are, for the most part, either poor of middle class for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is intelligence. People with low intellignece tend to be poor and to produce children with similar intelligence levels. No amount of social experimentation will ever change this.

Former APS Teacher

December 7th, 2011
11:58 am

“Atlanta showed its greatest growth in the earliest years of the trial.”

Yeah- before the proverbial poop hit the fan. I would be very interested in an AJC investigation into how APS selects students to take the NAEP.


December 7th, 2011
12:21 pm

8th graders don’t have the option of taking Algebra anymore…they only have the integrated Math I (not a math person, so I won’t comment, but haven’t heard anything good about it from math teachers)


December 7th, 2011
12:23 pm

- in Georgia-

Don't Tread

December 7th, 2011
12:45 pm

How many hints, erasures, and changed answers were involved in the scoring?


December 7th, 2011
1:10 pm

@Don’t Tread, the NAEP is not administered by the schools. They bring in their own people who administer the tests. APS officials don’t ever see the tests. Now, how they choose the kids? That’s a whole other question.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

December 7th, 2011
1:27 pm

“One of these reasons is intelligence. People with low intellignece tend to be poor and to produce children with similar intelligence levels. No amount of social experimentation will ever change this.”

I will proceed with the liberal response…We are all equal and thats no fair.


December 7th, 2011
1:48 pm

Really? Should I believe that?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

December 7th, 2011
1:55 pm


Where might I find definitive answers to the following questions:

How are students selected for participation in the NAEP?

Who administers the tests of which the NAEP items were parts?

Under what circumstances were the items administered?

Who handled the tests and monitored their administrations?

Who analyzed the item-responses for anomalies? Where? When? Under whose supervision?



December 7th, 2011
2:04 pm

So test scores increased……what does that really mean? How are test scores compared to other school districts. Real question should be are the test scores considered passing? I would hazard to guess they are not and are on track for abject failure later on in their “schooling”.

Maureen Downey

December 7th, 2011
2:07 pm

Mountain Man

December 7th, 2011
2:45 pm

How were the tests proctored? Were the teachers or administrators giving them? If so, I think you can throw out the results. Only if they were proctored by an outside, independent agency could you count the scores as accurate.

Maureen Downey

December 7th, 2011
2:47 pm

@Mountain: NAEP proctors its tests.

Former APS Teacher

December 7th, 2011
2:50 pm

Yes, but many of us don’t believe the students were randomly selected.

Mountain Man

December 7th, 2011
2:50 pm

So not ALL students take the test? So this is a test of only the best?


December 7th, 2011
2:54 pm

carlos- I work in a district where the poverty numbers have doubled since 2005. It’s not as much about poor people having low IQ kids as you might think. I have taught many from poverty who grow up to become middle class and I’ve taught middle class who choose to be lazy and grow up to become poor. My experience has been that many more choose not to get an education and become poor than can’t get it because of poverty breeding low IQ. The problem is standardized testing in general. Never has been and never will be valid or reliable IMO.

Maureen Downey

December 7th, 2011
2:58 pm

@Mountain, I don’t believe that there is deception in the picking of the kids. Please keep in mind that while the 21 districts in the Trial Urban Educational Assessment are improving, most are far below the national average. The scores would be much higher if systems could choose only their top students to take the tests.

Here is what NAEP says:

Children are randomly selected to participate as a representative of students in your state who attend schools with similar characteristics. The schools selected to participate in NAEP are representative of the demographic and geographic composition of the state as a whole. In a typical state, about 100 schools are selected for grade 4 assessment and 100 schools for grade 8 assessment.

A child is selected from a list of all students in his/her grade in the school, including the students with special needs. The NAEP staff selects students from this list by using a statistically valid randomization process. Neither a student’s class performance nor a school’s standing within the district or state has any bearing upon selection for the assessment. Because NAEP does not report scores for individual schools or their students, there should be no internal pressure to select certain students or schools for assessment.


December 7th, 2011
3:34 pm

I teach in a school in Missouri that is administering one of these tests tomorrow. The students here were all selected by age (13 year-olds).

Doubt It

December 7th, 2011
3:47 pm

Sure. I’m not falling for that one again.


December 7th, 2011
3:56 pm

Maureen, I have read several of your article involving APS and it’s always negative. I know that the district has issues, but can you write something positive every once in a while, or is that somethig really had for you to do?


December 7th, 2011
4:00 pm

In other words, the NAEP is a scientifically credible test and not prone to the cheating issues of a CRCT or EOCT where a teacher proctors his or her own students and turns in the answer sheets at the end of the day, to administrators from the same school with a stake in the resulting scores.

Not that most teachers and administrators cheat. Most educators are not ethically void. Yet clearly the temptation is there. One simple solution would be to have other teachers proctor the student’s tests, and then turn them in to administrators from a different school.

Maureen Downey

December 7th, 2011
4:01 pm

@Kgray, Can you talk to Beverly Fraud? He/she has the exact opposite complaint, that I write too positively about APS. Not sure what your complaint is here as I reported this NAEP stuff extensively and pretty straight. Maureen


December 7th, 2011
4:03 pm


Maureen’s article was as positive as you could possibly expect. She highlighted that APS scores have improved more since 2002 than any other city in the study.

Did you really expect her to ignore the reality and not mention that the city remains below the national average?

Exactly what good news do you think she’s been withholding???

A reader

December 7th, 2011
5:05 pm

Driscoll makes it sound like the gap between urban and suburban kids is all about resources: “He said we have to provide low-income kids with the kinds of resources that suburban children enjoy. They don’t have stimulation that suburban kids have in terms of books, libraries and activities.”

That is not the case in the Atlanta area. North Fulton had only 1 library until the early 2000’s. If you want to look at the disparity between library locations in Fulton county just look at this map: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=209086527015195133070.00049b3daa350364b028e&ll=33.835061,-84.365387&spn=0.727784,1.148071&source=embed

I would venture to say that the difference are the parents and their level of involvement in their children’s lives and schooling. Unfortunately, we cannot get new or better parents for the children that are most at risk. If a parent expects nothing from a child, then most children will do nothing. A few will find a passion from within, but only a few.

I am glad that APS has continue to improve in the past 9 years, despite the culture that allowed the cheating the thrive. I hope they continue to improve. But don’t blame lack of money or resources for the disparity between urban and suburban students. Throwing money at the problem will not solve it.

Beverly Fraud

December 7th, 2011
5:28 pm

Let’s see:

THE largest cheating scandal in US educational history

DOCUMENTED track record of violating the law on MULTIPLE issues

A MILLION DOLLAR plus E-Rate scandal ready to explode (or to the point yet ANOTHER one)

SYSTEMIC harassment of teachers through the PDP instrument

Administrative BLOAT unrivaled anywhere, with the possible exception of DCSS

12 years of Beverly Hall and the CRCT scores in all THIRTY categories were below average…and this is “award winning reform”

With such a DEARTH of bad news, why would anyone “go negative”?


December 7th, 2011
6:04 pm

“We better start taking serious our education results. If you look across the world, country after country is going by us.”

To Mr. Driscoll: This is HOOPLA and stirring PARANOIA once again! I suspect most school districts have been taking education quite serious for a long time. I’d like to know why you think it’s so dire for the U.S. if some other countries rank higher than we? Where is it written that the U.S. must be first in everything? What if we rank 6th or 17th? Moreover, the bar on standardized tests is always being raised–we’ll never make the high marks you’re referring to, because some group continues to increase the benchmark arbitrarily. We’re never satisfied is the real problem.

Multimillion dollar highschool on state needs improvment list. Really?

December 7th, 2011
8:46 pm

@ Maureen. Multimillion dollar school on state Needs Improvement List: Parents receive letters offering school choice. Has anyone at the AJC looked into this bit of news? It appears that North Atlanta high school is on the state Needs Improvement list (level 4) because the school has not made AYP for the past 3 years. As a result, according to a link off the APS website, this summer APS was required to send parents a letter offering them a choice of attending another school. The link to a PDF of the letter is below.

Now, what is shocking to me is that APS plans to spend $44 million constructing a new high school after (according to the N. Atlanta website) spending $30 million renovating the current location on Northside Drive. How does a school with obvious academic “challenges” justify spending $44 million to build a new school, and that does not count the funds spent buying the land? Could that money be spent on improving the quality of education in the building vs. buying a new building? I know the old campus will become a new middle school but for $44 million plus the price of land, couldn’t APS have saved the taxpayers money and built a sorely needed elementary school (all schools in this cluster are apparently overcapacity), a needed middle school AND had some funds possibly to spare?

Along these lines, in the past 10 years APS has spent millions renovating schools that they now must close due to low enrollment. Meanwhile there are schools with rats and mold and serious overcrowding, forcing disruption of children all over the city. But in essence a failing school gets a ton of money for a new location and building when the location they were in was JUST renovated SPRING 2011?! If your school has to offer parents a choice of sending their children elsewhere, do you really think building a new school is wise? Who will attend? If I got that letter I’d be exploring my options,NOT parusing architectural plans. Please tell me that someone at the AJC will take an interest in this story. If it were not for this paper’s hard work, the CRCT cheating would never be known. Someone has to make them accountable.


New North Atlanta
Budget = $44,000,000

From N. Atlanta Website section for Prospective Parents:

What is the status of the new North Atlanta campus?

In the meantime, North Atlanta students will continue to enjoy the benefits of a $30 million plus renovation of the current North Atlanta campus that was completed in spring 2011. During the three-year project, virtually every interior and exterior space was updated. This campus is slated to become a middle school once the new high school construction is complete.


December 7th, 2011
9:41 pm

I’ve posted this before – but I find it odd that of my 3 sons, the only one who ever took the NAEP was the 99th% one who is now in 11th grade (just got 99% on the PSAT) — he was “selected” to take it in 8th grade. We never saw the scores (I wish we had… I would have loved to have seen them). Based on my own “random’ sample… I think DCSS “games” it by choosing the “best of the best” to sit for the test…. but my “sample is only my household so it’s small. I think we’d do more justice on this if all of the 4th and 8th graders took the NAEP and we actually were able to see the results…..

Test Coordinator

December 7th, 2011
10:35 pm

The NAEP assessment is handled completely by the NAEP staff, they even bring their own manipulatives and pencils for the students. NAEP notifies the school district of the schools selected to participate. NAEP also provides a list of the students selected. Last year all of the 4th graders at my school took the assessment. During that same testing year many of our elementary schools were chosen to participate and all of the 4th graders tested, except those with severe mental disabilities or with testing accommodations that NAEP could not handle (i.e. Braille). Additionally students are assigned randomn numbers by NAEP and the paperwork given to the school is void of names or identifying information. Teachers are present in the room, but they don’t handle any test materials and are only there to ensure order and that the students are under the supervision of school employees at all times.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

December 7th, 2011
10:36 pm


Thanks for the website.


December 7th, 2011
11:21 pm

Are schools selected randomly too? Could be gamed at school and not student level

English grammar

December 8th, 2011
12:59 am

Georgia fourth- and eighth-graders are performing only slightly better than they did two years ago on national reading and math exams, and most of the students tested continue to lag the national average in both subjects, data released Tuesday show.

Beverly Fraud

December 8th, 2011
2:04 am

When people like Michael Casserly, continue to support people like Beverly Hall, they have no one but THEMSELVES to blame when people question their credibility.

Is it not true there were some allegations awhile back that not a SINGLE Hispanic student took the test, despite the fact that thousands are in the system? Was that confirmed or proven to be not true?

Beverly Fraud

December 8th, 2011
2:10 am

“It is clear that urban districts are are not only improving,but catching up, I can see a day when your scores will be the same as the nation, if not even better.”

And I can see a day that, with targeted focus and research based best practices, I will go step for step with Usain Bolt in a footrace.

Don’t get me wrong. We want to provide opportunities for INDIVIDUAL children to rise up. We NEVER should write off an entire group of children due to circumstances…but platitudes such as Casserly’s are indicative of a man whose integrity, or LACK thereof, CLEARLY shows when he steadfastly supports people like Beverly Hall.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

December 8th, 2011
8:18 am

“Maureen, I have read several of your article involving APS and it’s always negative. I know that the district has issues, but can you write something positive every once in a while, or is that somethig really had for you to do?”

LOL…got any more of those?

Ole Guy

December 8th, 2011
3:23 pm

Rich, poor, middle class, etc, ad nauseum…IT’S ALL A BUNCH OF BS, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. STANDARDS…that’s all there is to it. Everyone MUST meet the same level of performance…no special programs; no caustic socioeconomic labels like “at risk”, etc. This is your task…you either hack it or pack it. If you cannot/will not get with the program…GOOD FREQIN BY!

Ed Johnson

December 9th, 2011
8:39 am

Having looked at the data a bit, the NAEP TUDA continues to tell us APS is, in effect, two systems in one: one “White” and one “Black.”

The APS “White” system remains among the top, nationally, and the APS “Black” system remains among the bottom, nationally.

It is just plain silly – even unethical and immoral – for Michael Casserly, Andres Alonso, and anybody else to go around talking up APS based on any mid-point between the APS “White” system and the APS “Black” system. But perhaps they do not know to do any better. After all, innumeracy seems quite rampant among otherwise highly educated people.

Worse than Casserly and Alonso talking up APS out of ignorance of numbers — or perhaps intentionally, so as to vindicate Beverly Hall and their relationships with her – is the APS school board and superintendent doing it.

Beverly Fraud

December 9th, 2011
10:59 am

12 years of Beverly Hall (remember she used to say it would take “years” to reform, so that the kindergarteners would have the full benefit?)

The result? Below state average on ALL of last year’s CRCT.

MOST impressive legacy, is it not? No wonder Casserly sings her praises?

don speaks

December 11th, 2011
8:32 pm

one of the issues that is not mentioned when people start talking about intelligence is that poor children suffer from living in functioning homes(not their faults), unsafe communities, under and malnourished and health and medical problems that have not been diagnosed or treated(physical, emotional,dental,vision). some how, if our nation is to move forward and remain a democracy someone has to have the vision and fortitude to put this on the agenda for educational success. finally being born to sorry parents is the biggest impediment. again, this is not the children’s fault. blaming the victim and making mean spirited comments about kids who have humongous challenges to overcome are not going to change the cycle. everyone, just imagine where you would be if you had to walk in the shoes of these kids! a little more compassion and understanding might begin the process of addressing this national disgrace.

Ole Guy

December 12th, 2011
6:46 pm

I say again…ALL THIS MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Let’s keep an eye on the output: Rates of high school/college graduation, the gradual extinction of remedial programs, for lack of “demand”, etc, etc, etc…GOT IT?

Every time I see, hear, and read of the ever-present insistence of celebrating mediocrity, I want to puke. If kids are REALLY improving in math, fine…THAT’S THEIR STINKIN JOB. Are we going to accustom kids to expect blaring celebratory horns simply for doing THAT WHICH IS EXPECTED OF THEM? If kids are falling short on the reading front…more of it. Weekly stand-up reports on news events are certainly not out of 8th graders’ capabilities (it certainly wasn’t for Ole Guy in San Anton’ 8th grade).

Stop babying these kids…they passed the baby stage long long ago. Start shoving them into the fires of expectation…if you don’t start doing it NOW, society, reality, and the world will do it soon enough.