This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Nation’s Report Card shows that three out of five of Philadelphia 4th-graders score "below basic" on reading tests, and just 10 percent score proficient or advanced, putting the city near the bottom of 18 large city school districts.
Results released Thursday for the 2009 NAEP reading test by the National Center for Educational Statistics indicated that 8th-graders do somewhat better, with 44 percent below basic and 15 percent scoring proficient or advanced, bringing it closer to the big-city average.
These results are significantly different from Philadelphia’s showing on the state standardized tests, the PSSA. On that test, 47 percent of 4th graders and 62 percent of 8th-graders score at least proficient.
The gap reflects different levels of proficiency set by the NAEP, which stands for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the various states. The NAEP is considered to more closely match international standards.
The NAEP tests a sampling of students in each state every two years. In addition, the 18 districts agreed to have their scores broken out in order to track improvement over time and compare their achievement to the larger whole. While the program, called the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) began in 2002, last year was the first time Philadelphia participated.
"These scores set a benchmark," said Michael Schlesinger of the District’s accountability office. Schlesinger said that the District has implemented several literacy initiatives since the test was administered, but added, "The large percentage of students scoring below basic is a concern."
Tests in reading, math, and science were administered to a sample of 1,300 students in each grade in the winter of 2009. In math results released in December, Philadelphia students had similar low proficiency rates and disparities with state PSSA results. Science results will be released in the summer.
Schlesinger explained that the scoring proficient on the PSSA is about the same as scoring basic on NAEP. Even so, Pennsylvania’s standards are by no means the lowest among all the states.
As a whole and for all the subgroups, including African Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and low-income, Philadelphia 4th-graders scored below the average for large cities. For 8th-graders, Philadelphia’s scores were about the same as the big-city average as a group and for all the subgroups.