Math Scores Surge In DC Public Schools

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Mathematics achievement has surged in D.C. public schools over the past six years and risen sharply in large cities that are the focus of a major turnaround movement, the federal government reported Tuesday.

The District’s schools, the report showed, no longer rank last in math among major urban systems. They are now roughly on par with counterparts in places such as Los Angeles and Milwaukee.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found the D.C school system was the only one of 11 studied in 2007 and 2009 to make significant strides in math in grades 4 and 8. The two-year analysis relied on calculations that excluded scores from the city’s independently operated public charter schools.

Scores in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland and Charlottehad no significant change from 2007. Fourth-grade scores rose significantly in Boston, and the same was true for eighth-grade marks in San Diego and Austin.

But Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said that overall, cities with population of more than 250,000 showed outsized gains since 2003 — 7 points in fourth grade on a 500-point scale compared with a 5-point advance for the nation, and 9 points in eighth grade compared with 6 for the nation.

“The data are clear that we are catching up with the nation,” Casserly said.

The report bolstered D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s argument that she has set the long-troubled school system on the right track.

“We grew significantly whereas other districts remained pretty flat,” Rhee said at a news conference. “That, for us, speaks pretty loudly.”

Rhee took office in mid-2007 with a mandate from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to overhaul the schools from the ground up. Her combative style, especially in challenging the teachers union, has made Rhee a celebrity among some advocates of data-driven and market-based reforms. But the chancellor also has alienated many political constituencies along the way.

The report showed that the upward trend in the District began well before Rhee’s arrival. The city’s fourth-grade math scores have climbed from to 220 this year from 205 in 2003. Only Boston had greater fourth-grade gains (16 points) in that time among the cities studied.

Eighth-grade scores for the District have risen to 251 this year from 243 in 2003; that advance is comparable to the six-year gains in New York (7 points) and Chicago (9).

Although D.C. scores remain below average for the nation and for large cities, the capital city’s schools have managed to climb out of the cellar in math standings.

In previous studies, the District had ranked last or tied for last in math. This year its fourth-grade average, 220, is ahead of Fresno, Calif. (219), Cleveland (213) and Detroit (200). In eighth grade, the District tied with Milwaukee for second-to-last place, at 251, while Detroit again was at the bottom (238).

Fresno, Detroit, Milwaukee and four other cities participated in the study this year for the first time. The other newcomers were Philadelphia, Miami-Dade County, Baltimore and Jefferson County (Louisville), Ky.

Detroit sticks out as the school system with by far the lowest scores. Casserly called its scores “an outrage.” In addition, the stagnation of achievement in Cleveland is notable. Austin and Charlotte, meanwhile, are at the head of the pack.

Now, the District’s peer group appears to be Baltimore, Cleveland, Fresno, Milwaukee and Los Angeles — and possibly Atlanta and Chicago. The Chicago schools were led by Arne Duncan until he joined the Obama administration this year as education secretary.

The report can be found at For more education news, go to


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