New York Down, Other Cities Up in Math Scores

In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City gained mayoral control over the city's school system. But as a two-year study by Rutgers University's Institute of Education Law and Policy recently concluded, mayoral control does not necessarily translate into student success. This could be illustrated by recent national testing results in math, which show New York lagging behind many other major cities across the country.

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Small But Alarming Drop

The results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing are in, and the news is not totally encouraging for New York City.

Math scores for fourth-grade students dropped three points between 2009 and 2011; for eighth-graders, the drop was one point. Both scores were below the national average, which saw a slight rise. But in many other large cities, these scores rose two and three points, respectively.

While we're not talking about astronomical numbers (some federal officials even called them 'too small to be significant' according to The New York Times), the changes are still alarming, especially when one considers the No Child Left Behind goal to have all students proficient in math and reading by 2014.

'Lifting the Floor'

What makes the math scores in New York City particularly distressing is that scores in many other large cities across the United States were up in the same subject. Cities like Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta have made substantial gains in math over the past several years.

Unlike New York City, several major cities saw an increase in math scores in both fourth and eighth grades between 2009 and 2011. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Austin, Texas, saw better scores for fourth graders, while Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Charlotte, North Carolina, witnessed a rise in math scores for eighth-grade students.

Some say progress has been made in New York City, pointing to statistics that show students have moved up from the lowest achievement level in the past seven years. But policy analyst Allison Horowitz of Education Trust, an academic achievement advocacy group, told The New York Times in December: 'We're not going to get all students where they need to be if all we're doing is lifting the floor.'

Silver Linings

It's not all bad news for the Big Apple.

Despite the dips in math scores, those scores are still up when compared to the numbers from 2003 (eight points higher for fourth-graders and six for eighth-graders). And achievement gaps for poor and minority students have shrunk over the past ten years.

Perhaps most encouraging of all are the results of State Education Department exams taken in May 2011. These results showed that 57.3% of students in grades 3-8 'met or exceeded the math standard', a figure that was up more than three percentage points from 2010.

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