Skip to main content

Math scores show improvement at schools in large U.S. cities

By Sally Holland, CNN
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the report, but cautioned that "the rate of change isn't fast enough."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the report, but cautioned that "the rate of change isn't fast enough."
  • Eighth-graders in Austin and San Diego, fourth-graders in Boston and D.C. show improvement
  • D.C. chancellor pleased with results, as well as district's comparative improvement
  • Large cities improved average scores for fourth- and eighth-graders compared with 2007
  • NAEP report pulls out numbers for 18 urban districts of 250,000 or more students

Washington (CNN) -- Public school students in major metropolitan areas are showing improvement on test scores in mathematics compared with scores from previous years, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Education.

In Austin, Texas, and San Diego, California, eighth-graders raised their scores. In Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, fourth-grade students showed the gains. The report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress compared test scores from those two grades in 18 urban school districts.

District of Columbia School Chancellor Michelle Rhee was pleased with the results, as well as with the district's showing compared to other cities.

"In the past whenever you would get the NAEP results for D.C., you would see that we were at the absolute bottom. We were always last. And now, we are no longer last," she said at an afternoon news conference on the NAEP results.

Large cities throughout the nation improved average scores for both grades compared with 2007, according to the report.

Urban school districts have different challenges than suburban or rural school districts because they tend to have higher numbers of students from low-income families and high numbers of minority students -- two groups that traditionally have more difficulty in school.

Overall, the report showed black-white and Hispanic-white score gaps remain about the same in both grades.

According to Peggy Carr with the National Center for Education Statistics, there were some exceptions. In an online chat, Carr wrote, "For instance, at grade 4, the District of Columbia ... saw a narrowing of the Hispanic-white score gap compared to 2003. At grade 8, Charlotte [North Carolina] saw a narrowing of both the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps compared to 2007 and a narrowing of the black-white score gap compared to 2003."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the results in Tuesday's report, saying that the numbers show that "our nation's biggest cities are continuing to make progress."

But, he added, "The rate of change isn't fast enough to prepare urban children to succeed in college and the workplace."

The Department of Education released a nationwide report on mathematics for fourth- and eighth-graders in mid-October showing that eighth-grade students had produced slightly higher scores than in 2007. For fourth-graders, the numbers were basically unchanged.

Tuesday's report pulls out the numbers for 18 urban school districts, all with more than 250,000 students, to make comparisons to similar-sized districts.

The report is called "The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment," and can be found at