Atlanta city students gain in math but still trail big-city peers

Atlanta elementary and middle school students have made double-digit math gains since 2003, but they still trail their peers from the nation’s big cities.

A report released Tuesday analyzing certain math scores in 18 urban school systems showed that Atlanta’s students this year scored in the middle of the pack but below public school students in big cities overall.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- also known as NAEP and the Nation's Report Card -- 45 percent of Atlanta's eighth-graders scored at basic proficiency or better, compared with 59 percent of big-city students nationally.

Fourth-graders did better, with 63 percent scoring at or above basic, compared to 72 percent nationally. That's a stronger showing than fourth-graders in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Fresno, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Detroit.

By comparison, in 2003 only 30 percent of Atlanta’s eighth-graders scored at or above basic, as did just 50 percent of the city’s fourth-graders.

NAEP is given every two years to a representative sample of students in each state and participating city. National scores were released in October. Tuesday’s report focused on the performance of urban students, offering what officials called a “common yardstick” for systems with more similar characteristics.

All the cities including Atlanta volunteer for NAEP's ongoing study of urban school systems, which launched in 2002. The study this year expanded by seven systems and also includes Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, New York, San Diego, Baltimore, Miami-Dade and Jefferson County (Louisville), Ky.

While NAEP tests different subjects, the new report dealt only with math. Of the participating systems, Charlotte’s fourth-graders had the highest performance with 86 percent at or above basic. In eighth grade, 75 percent of Austin’s students scored at basic or better to top the urban ranks.

Scores over the last two years were relatively unchanged for most systems, but the report noted that eight of 10 systems including Atlanta that began participating in 2003 have made significant gains in both grades over the six years. Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall said in a statement that the city has improved its curriculum and given teachers better training and development.