This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Just 16 percent of 4th graders and 17 percent of 8th graders in Philadelphia scored proficient or better in math on the Nation’s Report Card. The Report Card is also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, or the NAEP. Results on the exam, released today, put the city below the average for students in big districts across the nation.
In addition, those numbers differ wildly from proficiency rates on the PSSA, the state standardized tests. In 2009, more than 60 percent of Philadelphia 4th graders and 51 percent of 8th graders scored proficient or better — raising issues about the rigor of state standards and the PSSA.
While NAEP is given every two years, some cities are participating voluntarily in a study specifically comparing large urban districts. Philadelphia is among seven districts that signed up for that comparison starting this year; 11 districts were also tested in 2007.
The results showed that overall, students in big cities have made progress in the past two years, but that some cities lag far behind others.
Some of the results were striking.
Philadelphia’s 4th grade proficiency rate of 16 percent bested only Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno and Milwaukee, putting it in the bottom third among 18 large cities and lagging far behind the overall proficiency rate of 29 percent for large cities. Its 8th grade proficiency rate of 17 percent was somewhat closer to the large city average score of 24 percent.
Philadelphia was below the national average for every race/ethnicity category for 4th graders: White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander. For 8th graders it was below the national average for Black and Hispanic students, but there was "no significant difference between the District and the nation" for White and Asian/Pacfic Islander students.
There is a growing movement towards national education standards. Part of the interest in national standards comes from wide gaps in national and state measures, such as what these NAEP results revealed.