Oct 25, 2022 - News

Boosting Boston's math and reading scores

Illustration of a calculator with downward arrows flashing on the screen.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper has vowed to expand access to math curricula and introduce other strategies to help improve students’ math and reading skills, following a national report showing declining scores and widening racial gaps in the district.

What’s happening: Skipper’s plans come after National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for students in fourth and eighth grades showed that BPS’ math and reading scores were several points lower in 2022 than in 2019, with Black and Latino students getting even lower scores on average than their white and Asian counterparts.

Why it matters: The drop confirmed fears from school leaders, parents and state officials across the country that the pandemic has set back a generation of students, with disparate effects on Black and Latino students.

  • Reading scores dropped to 1992 levels nationally, and nearly 4 in 10 eighth-graders failed to understand basic math.

Yes, but: Skipper notes that the “opportunity gap” has been widening and disproportionately affecting Black and brown students, students with disabilities and multilingual students for years.

Details: Skipper said in a statement yesterday the district is expanding access to its latest math curricula for grades 6-12, using interactive visual lessons to teach math concepts.

To improve literacy, the district said more than 400 early educators have undergone a form of literacy training that focuses on helping students understand the sounds in the words.

  • The district has started using culturally relevant texts to help children read, and added books by Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) authors with nonwhite characters to the school libraries to reflect the students’ identities, per the press release.

Plus: Skipper said a recent agreement with the Boston Teachers Union included reforms targeting lowering classroom sizes and using a "collaborative approach" for students with individualized learning plans.

By the numbers: On a scale of 0 to 500, BPS fourth graders scored on average 210 in reading and 227 in math. BPS eighth graders scored on average 255 in reading and 270 in math, per NAEP.

  • Black and Hispanic fourth graders’ average scores were 49 and 39 points lower respectively than white students’ average score.
  • Black and Hispanic eighth graders’ average scores were respectively 50 and 52 points lower than white students’.
  • In both age groups, the racial opportunity gaps were wider in 2022 than in 2003 when NAEP started tracking Boston under the Trial Urban District Assessment.

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