Chicago Public Schools students did not make significant improvement over the past two years in reading and continued to lag behind other large cities in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.But there are a few bright spots for CPS. Unlike New York City, none of the average scores dropped, though only in 8th-grade math was there a marked gain in average scores.

Also, fewer students are scoring below basic, especially in 8th grade math. (Below basic is the lowest category.) In 2002, 58 percent of CPS 8th-graders scored below basic in math; in 2009, the number fell to 49 percent and in 2011, to 40 percent.

In reading, the results are troubling: More than half of 4th graders scored below basic in reading.

Dubbed The Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP is given to a sample of 4th and 8th-graders every other year. The gap between large cities and the rest of the nation has narrowed each year since 2002, when urban school districts voluntarily signed on to participate in the exam.

Chicago has consistently scored at or near the bottom compared to other large districts. While Chicago has a high concentration of students in poverty—85 percent— who tend to score lower on tests, but the city’s low-income students still tend to score below their counterparts in most other large cities.

For full results from Chicago and other urban districts, visit the NAEP website.

Dose of reality

In years past, the release of the NAEP scores has served as a reality check for Chicago, as CPS officials have boasted about gains on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. But in recent months, the district’s new leaders have readily acknowledged that students are not where they should be academically.

For one, researchers at the Consortium on Chicago School Research reported that elementary student achievement has barely budged since the first reform law was passed in 1989. 

And in creating new School Progress Reports for each school, and including test scores on nationally-normed achievement tests, the district appeared to be bracing parents and the public for the shock of, potentially, seeing scores drop as Chicago and other districts move to new tests based on more rigorous Common Core Standards.

The new progress reports showed stark gaps in achievement, with scores on the ISAT in many cases painting a far brighter picture than scores on the nationally-normed exams.

 Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso has said that other tests besides the ISAT, such as the benchmark NWEA exam, show that most students are not leaving elementary school ready for high school and not leaving high school ready for college.

“These scores reiterate what we already know: Year after year, we have fallen short of giving our students access to the quality education they need to grow academically,” according to a statement released Wednesday by CPS. The statement goes on to say that the NAEP scores confirm the need for CPS to lengthen its school day, a top agenda item for the current CPS administration and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The statement also says that the lack of improvement is another reason to take action against low-performing schools. Last week, CPS officials announced plans to turnaround 10 schools and to close or phase out another four.

“Our children cannot afford another year of test results that show they are not getting the tools they need to be successful,” according to the statement.

Racial achievement gap still stark

CPS leaders have especially harped on the achievement gap, which CEO Jean-Claude Brizard called “unacceptable”. 

The NAEP results underscore the disparity. Black and Latino 4th-graders in Chicago have raised their scores since 2002 in reading, but the gap between them and white students is still just as wide. Further, the gap in the average scores between black and white students is 32 points; between white and Latino students, 23 points.

Virtually no black students and very few Latino students scored in the advanced category in either reading or math. But about 10 percent of white students scored at that level.

Other cities have similar achievement gaps.

Along with the test scores, NAEP released results of teacher and student surveys that were conducted with the tests. Overall, more 4th and 8th-grade reading and math teachers have master’s degrees, including more than 60 percent in CPS, a figure that has increased by 20 percent since the survey was first done in 2005.

Also, 65 percent of Chicago 4th-grade teachers read aloud almost every day to their students and 56 percent ask their students almost every day to write about something they have read. These results are similar to other large cities.

Yet, only 19 percent of CPS students say they read every day. And fewer CPS 8th-graders are taking algebra, considered a gateway course for high school and college math. Less than a quarter of CPS 8th-grade students are in algebra and 40 percent are in basic math; in other large cities about a third of 8th-graders are in algebra.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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