Large urban school districts have made steady progress on national elementary school math and reading exams over the past nine years but continue to score far below national averages, according to federal data.
Results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress show that scores in urban districts rose slightly or remained flat since the exams were last given in 2009—similar to the national performance.
But a more promising picture emerges when trend lines are extended back to the early 2000s. Students in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Houston posted double-digit gains on several exams since 2002, helping close the chasm between their performance and that of districts nationwide.
The results will likely fuel the debate over how to improve the lowest-performing schools, many of which are in cities. The data also come amid an intensifying battle between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration over how to revamp No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that some say propelled the test score gains in inner cities.
The Council of Great City Schools, a research and policy group that represents large districts, commissioned a study that found districts making the most progress had stable leadership, high academic goals for students, quality professional development for teachers and data analysis that helped alter teaching. The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.