Tag: Atlanta Public Schools


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This is Dropout Nation: Why Reading Matters or Why Atlanta Students Are Failing Math


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If you want to understand the underlying reason why 150 high school students drop out every hour, simply consider the math performance of Atlanta Public Schools’ 4th-graders on the 2005…

A book a day keeps kids on good math progress. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If you want to understand the underlying reason why 150 high school students drop out every hour, simply consider the math performance of Atlanta Public Schools’ 4th-graders on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress and their likely performance as 8th graders four years later.

Back in 2005, 43 percent of Atlanta 4th-graders performed Below Basic on the math portion of the NAEP, with students averaging a scale score of  221, seven points below the average for their peers in other large cities (and 16 points below the average for all public school students nationwide). While just four percent of white 4th-graders scored Below Basic, 49 percent of black students scored Below Basic. Sixty-six percent of learning disabled students and 34 of regular classroom students also scored Below Basic.

Four years later, the students — now 8th graders — have gotten taller. Their academic performance, on the other hand, hasn’t gotten better. Fifty-four percent of 8th graders scored Below Basic on NAEP — a full 12 percentage points increase over the past four years; the average scale score of 259 was better than the scores four years ago, but it still trailed the average of 271 for their peers in other large cities and 282 for all public school students). The academic failure is even more pronounced: Eighty-four percent of learning-disabled students and 51 percent of regular classroom students scored Below Basic on the assessment.

Certainly the low quality of math instruction is a major problem for Atlanta students. So are the standards under which they are taught; back in 2005, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute complained that Georgia’s math standards placed “too much emphasis on calculator use and manipulatives throughout” (although middle-school algebra and geometry was considered grade appropriate).

But the biggest problem may be the simplest: The kids can’t read.

There has long been evidence that the stronger one’s reading comprehension, the more likely they are able to handle the rigors of math. A team led by University of Arizona researcher Carole R. Beale, for example, determined that the math performance of English Language Learners progressed as their reading proficiency increased. This is especially true as students reach latter grades, as simple math computations give way to word problems and abstract math concepts such as algebra and trigonometry. If an 8th-grader struggles to read a passage in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then  figuring out the answer to “This year, your brother Jack will be 2 years from being twice as old as your sister Jen” will be a gargantuan challenge.

This is evidently true in the case of Atlanta students. Fifty-nine percent of Atlanta 4th-graders scored Below Basic on the 2005 NAEP. Low reading proficiency may also explain why so many Atlanta students are labeled learning disabled in the first place. Poor reading skills can be mistaken for developmental delays, landing students into special ed classes where the chances of improving academically go to die.

Intensive reading remediation is probably the key solution for improving math skills in the long run. Bolstering reading instruction, especially at the early grades, is crucial. A community effort to read to kids (especially in poor neighborhoods home to dropout factories) would help too. The better a child reads, the better he will do in math. And vice versa.

The good news — if you can call it that — is that just 37 percent of Atlanta 4th-graders taking the 2009 NAEP scored Below Basic. It’s time for Atlanta Public Schools to get going on the intensive reading remediation these kids need.

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The Special Ed Crisis By The Numbers: Atlanta Public Schools


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Special education is the place where graduation doesn’t happen.

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Special education is the place where graduation doesn’t happen. Less than one-fifth of students ever graduate. Seventy-three percent of students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances will end up being arrested and incarcerated over time. Yet despite evidence that overdiagnosis of learning disabilities is leading to more labeling of students, especially black and white males, there is ample fiscal incentive for school districts to engage in the gamesmanship.

A look at Atlanta’s public school district offers some clues as to what is happening to far too many young men and women, especially black and poor whites:

2,181: Number of special ed students in Atlanta’s public schools in 2005-2006, as funded by the Georgia state government. This doesn’t include kindergartners or elementary school students who are special ed, but are served under the state’s program for early intervention. About 3,035 students in Atlanta schools are diagnosed with a learning disability.

$7,550: The amount given for each special ed student by the State of Georgia. The state just provides $2,181 for each student in regular academic programs and $2,705 for every student in gifted and talented programs.

49: Percentage of special education/learning disabled students who spend 60 percent or more of their time outside regular classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Essentially, they are not likely to participate in academic courses that lead to college and beyond.

1,515: Number of special ed students (all served under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or other federal laws) either suspended, expelled or subject to corporal punishment  in 2005-2006. The more often children are suspended, the less likely they are to graduate from school.

9: Percentage of black males labeled with a specific learning disability — and likely in special education classes; this is three times higher than the likely occurrence of such disabilities.  Three percent of black females are labeled.

4: Percentage of white males labeled with a specific learning disability. Just slightly above the likely occurrence of such disabilities. Only two percent of white females were labeled.

92: The percentage of the labeled learning-disabled enrollment who are black; blacks make up 86 percent of all student enrollment overall in Atlanta public schools. Whites account for three-hundredths of one percent of learning-disabled students, despite making up eight percent of overall enrollment.

42: The percentage of Atlanta’s gifted and talented program students who are white; that is eight times higher than their overall enrollment. Blacks do account for 53 percent of students in the gifted and talented program; but that is below their overall enrollment in the school district.

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