Baltimore City students scored near the bottom in reading and math compared to children in other cities and large urban areas on an important national assessment given in 2017, according to scores released Tuesday morning.
In fourth- and eighth-grade reading, only 13 percent of city students are considered proficient or advanced. In fourth-grade math, 14 percent were proficient and in eighth-grade math 11 percent met the mark, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated test from the U.S. Department of Education.
That put the Baltimore ahead of only Detroit and Cleveland, and sometimes ahead of Milwaukee and Fresno, Calif. — areas of the country that also suffer from high poverty and crime.
"These results underscore the urgency of the work we are now doing to ensure our students achieve at higher levels," said Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises in a statement. She declined to be interviewed.
The statement said the district is working to focus on literacy to improve student achievement in language arts and other subjects, and is trying to train principals better. Baltimore has introduced a new math curriculum this year and will move to a new English curriculum next year.
Santelises is one of the first city schools leaders in a decade to focus on curriculum and academic reforms, rather than structural changes within the school system.
Baltimore and Maryland scores remained essentially flat on the assessment — also known as the Nation's Report Card — mirroring a national trend. Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts were among states that showed significant increases in eighth-grade reading proficiency.
Nationwide scores were flat on the test, which is considered the longest-running and most reliable assessment of what U.S. students now in reading and math in the fourth and eighth grades.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is required by law to be given to a sampling of U.S. students every two years. It is the only national test that allows educational achievement of states and cities to be compared.
In addition, two dozen cities — including Baltimore — have voluntarily chosen to have a larger sample of students tested in order to receive results specific to their cities. Baltimore began giving the test to more students in 2009.
Some cities, including Washington, Miami and Fresno, Calif., have reported significant increases in achievement while Baltimore's scores have generally gone down in the past eight years.
Nationally, Maryland fourth-graders ranked 13th in reading and 24th in math, while the state's eighth-graders ranked 23rd in reading and 33rd in math.
Two years ago, the state experienced an historic drop in scores that education officials partially attributed to the fact that the state previously excluded too many special education students from taking the tests — more than was allowed. Maryland went from one of the top-performing states to the middle of the pack among states.
State Department of Education officials declined to be interviewed Monday, but said in a statement that for the first time the state had included enough students with disabilities and English language learners to meet targets set by the federal government.
In fourth-grade math and reading and eighth-grade reading, Maryland scores were above the national average. Eighth-grade math scores were slightly below the national average.
The state did not release the percentage of students proficient in reading and math on Tuesday morning. A spokesman said the department had not had time to analyze the data.
One national trend that has become apparent is the growing disparity between the lowest-performing students and the highest-performing. The percentage of the lowest performers is increasing over time, but so is the percentage of students who are high scorers. Student achievement is often linked to family income, and there is a growing income gap in students enrolled in public schools.