These districts score better than the rest

New achievement results highlight top-performing urban districts

districts-school-urban According to new results from a report measuring student achievement progress in math and reading in U.S. urban school districts, two districts are at the top of their game; however, much progress needs to be made for urban districts across the country.

The results are part of The Nation’s Report Card, which began measuring progress in urban schools districts 10 years ago. The 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in math and reading reports the achievement of public schools students in 21 urban districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

District participation is voluntary, and every district invited agreed to participate. The report shows achievement results in both fourth and eighth grades.

(Next page: The top performing urban districts)

TUDA 2013 showed most districts that participated in the first reading and math assessments 10 years ago scored higher this year at both grades 4 and 8, and none of the participating districts scored lower than in the first testing year.

District of Columbia Public Schools was the only one of this year’s 21 participating districts to show gains in both math and reading at both grades compared with 2011; and Los Angeles’ scores improved in reading at both grades, and in math in grade four.

However, average reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students in most TUDA districts, even those that have improved, were lower than the average scores for students in their home states and the nation.

When participating urban districts are compared with large cities (those with a population of 250,000 or more) nationally, more districts score lower than their city peers in reading than in math.

For example, in grade four math, nine districts scored lower than the average for large cities. In grade four reading, 12 districts scored lower than large cities nationally.

“Anyone interested in the state of our nation’s education should start by looking at progress in these urban districts, which face a concentration of the challenges all schools grapple with to some degree,” explained David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “By volunteering to be part of TUDA, these districts gain insights and data they can use to focus their academic efforts.”

“We have a long way to go. But inertia in urban public education has ended,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “And it has been replaced by progress. I am very proud of the work that our cities have done over these years and am profoundly optimistic by the additional progress I know lies in front of us.”

Casserly explained that in all, the gains urban schools have made are “significantly larger” than the nation itself over the last decade. Over the decade, urban city schools have made progress raising average scale scores.

“We have made progress increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above the Basic achievement level. We have also made progress increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient. And we have decreased the percentage of urban students scoring below the Basic level.”

The results

The 2013 TUDA results are based on representative samples of 1,100 to 2,300 public schools students at grade four and 900 to 2,100 public schools students at grade eight in each participating urban district.

NAEP said it tries to include a “highly representative sampling” of students, and counts as a factor the percentage of participating students who have disabilities or are English Language Learners (ELL).

(Next page: Progress and using the report’s website for more answers)

According to the report, “notable progress” in closing achievement gaps includes:

  • Black, Hispanic, and white students in Los Angeles scored higher in 2013 than in 2011 in math at grade four.
  • Black, Hispanic, and white students in in D.C. scored higher in 2013 than in 2011 in reading at grade eight.
  • Students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch increased their average scores from 2011 to 2013 in at least one subject and grade combination in eight districts (Atlanta; Baltimore City; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; D.C.; Fresno, Calif.; and Los Angeles).

“Every district has its own story,” said Driscoll, “but as a whole over the last 10 years all of the districts are improving. In general, though, these scores are too low, and that should concern everyone. TUDA matter because these school systems need our attention more than ever before.”

This report card is the second to be published in an interactive report that allows searches using multiple variables within districts and for comparison against other regions.

For example, the “district profiles” pages include the performance gaps by race/ethnicity, gender, and eligibility status for the National School Lunch program. It also includes classroom context, such as how much time teachers spend teaching a subject compared with the corresponding information at the state and national levels.

The report website also features a video to help people understand the ways the new site allows searches for hundreds of findings.

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Meris Stansbury

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