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On U.S. math test, NYC sees gradual but not short-term gains

City students have made no significant improvements on a national math test in the last two years, but years of two and three-point gains have led to a general trend of modestly increasing scores.

Fourth and eighth grade students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, have been statistically flat since 2007, though both groups have made gains since 2005 and 2003.

NAEP scores are typically released on a state-by-state basis, but in 2002 several large cities agreed to have their own figures reported separately. The data does not include test scores from students in charter schools. Compared to students in other large cities, New York City’s fourth-graders beat the average score, while its eighth grade students’ scores met the average — a pattern that has held constant since 2003.

This year, a fourth-grader’s average score on the math test was 237, compared to 236 in 2007. Though there was no improvement in the last two years, there has been an 11 point increase since 2003.

The average score for an eighth-grader was 273 compared to 270 in 2007. Since 2003, the year the Bloomberg administration began to initiate changes in the city’s public schools, eighth graders have seen a 7 point increase in scores.

While the NAEP scores show no significant changes since 2007, the state’s yearly math exams tell a different story. According to state tests, between 2007 and 2009, both fourth and eighth graders in New York State saw their scores jump significant amounts.

Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said the state tests measured students’ growth less accurately than NAEP, as they are more predictable and cover fewer subjects.

“I think the mayor and the chancellor have done an extraordinary job on the schools, but that doesn’t mean perfect. That means beyond anyone’s expectations,” Tisch said. “And I frankly believe that these NAEP scores reflect a misalignment between state standards and national standards that we are going to address.”

All groups of students have posted some improvements since 2003, except for white eighth graders, who have always had high scores, and Hispanic eighth graders, who lag behind other groups.

“We just have to do better with our English language learners,” said DOE spokesman David Cantor. “We knew we had to make some pretty radical changes and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

The gap between white students’ scores and black and Hispanic students’ scores, known as the achievement gap, has not narrowed in New York City over the last six years, according to the NAEP results.

This year, white fourth-graders had an average score that was 26 points higher than black students’ scores, compared to a gap of 25 points in 2003. For Hispanic fourth-graders, the gap was 23 points in 2009 and 24 points in 2003. The same pattern continued this year for eighth grade students.

At the height of his reelection campaign, Bloomberg predicted that the NAEP scores would mirror gains made on the state tests and show that his administration was succeeding in closing the achievement gap.

“You are going to see the NAEP scores show, the federal government scores, show that New York City has made great progress,” he said during a televised debate.

Dissecting the numbers yesterday, few could agree on how “great” the progress has been.

“We have had eight years of relentless focus on test prep for the state examinations that has led to sharply rising scores on those tests. But the NAEP, the most respected test, shows that our students have actually made very small gains,” said teachers union president Michael Mulgrew in a statement.

“It’s time to admit that the DOE’s education strategy is not working,” Mulgrew said.

City officials emphasized the long-term gains.

“We usually don’t put a great deal of weight on the rise or decline over a two year period,” Cantor said. “We wait for longer terms to judge if we’re going in the the right direction or not.”

New York City’s results on the test are likely to be overshadowed by Washington D.C., which saw the greatest score increase of any participating major city.

Results from the 2009 NAEP reading test will not be available until the spring.

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