Urban districts making gains on test scores

NSBA’s Center for Public Education’s Senior Policy Analyst Jim Hull wrote this analysis on the National Center for Education Statistics’ Trial Urban District Assessment results released this week:

On Wednesday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the sixth installment of the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), which reports on the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders on NAEP reading and mathematics in 21 participating urban districts. Results show that our nation’s urban districts have made gains that have outpaced the average public school— yet students in large urban districts still perform significantly below the average student nationwide.

It is important to point out that the gains being made are not shared by all urban districts. Some urban districts have made more dramatic gains than others. For example, Washington, DC made impressive gains both recently and in the long term. In three of the four grades and subjects that NEAP assessed, DC students acquired nearly an additional two years worth of learning than a decade ago. Large gains were also made in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego since 2003. However, out of these large gaining districts, only San Diego performed as well as the national average in at least one grade and subject area. Charlotte, on the other hand, has made moderate gains but still outperformed the national average on all assessments except for 8th grade reading. Austin outperformed the national average as well in 4th grade math and Hillsborough (FL) outperformed the national average in 4th grade reading.

Despite significant gains made by some districts, the report also indicates the gains made by urban districts may be subsiding. Fewer participating districts made significant gains between 2011 and 2013 than between 2009 and 2011. Taken together, schools in large cities continued to improve between 2011 and 2013, just not as strongly as in previous years. In order to meet or even beat the national average, students attending schools in large urban districts had to literally outdo themselves.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet on how to accelerate such gains. Some of the highest gaining districts were governed by elected school boards while others were under mayoral control. Some have charter schools while others do not. Some instituted high-stakes teacher evaluation systems while others have not. Some are in states that have implemented the Common Core State Standards while others are not. From this report alone it is not possible to determine what attributed to dramatic gains. What school boards need to do is examine what changes high gaining districts may have made and determine if such changes would be beneficial to their districts

The Findings

4th Grade Reading

  • Washington (5 points) and Los Angeles (4 points) were the only surveyed districts to make significant gains on their reading scores between 2011 and 2013. During this same time period there was no significant increase in scores nationally.
    • Houston was the only district to see a significant decrease in scores (-5 points) between 2011 and 2013.
  • Atlanta (18 points) and Washington (17 points) made the greatest gains from 2003 to 2013. Such increases are roughly equivalent to about a year and half worth of learning.
    • Cleveland was the only district to post a significant decline (-6 points) between 2003 and 2013.
  • Austin, Charlotte, Florida’s Hillsborough County, and San Diego scored higher than the average for large cities* (cities of populations of 250,000 or more).
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above proficient varied dramatically among urban districts from 40 percent in Hillsborough County and Charlotte to just 7 percent in Detroit.

8th Grade Reading

  • Five districts significantly increased their scores from 2011 to 2013, with Washington, DC posting the greatest gains with an 8 point improvement. During this same time period, students nationally increased their scores by just 2 points.
    • From 2003 to 2013, only Atlanta (15 points), Los Angeles (15 points) and San Diego (10 points) made significant gains in their performance.
    • Cleveland was the only district to post a significant decline in their scores (-2 points) between 2003 and 2013.
  • Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County, and Houston scored higher than the average for large cities. No district had a significant decrease in scores between 2011 and 2013.
  • Just as in the fourth grade, the percent of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2013.
  • The range of students scoring at or above proficient was nearly as wide as it was at the fourth-grade level. Charlotte had the highest percentage at 36 percent while Detroit once again had the lowest at just 9 percent.

4th Grade Math

  • Washington, DC (7 points), Chicago (7 points), Los Angeles (5 points), and Atlanta (5 points) were the only districts to significantly increase their scores from 2011 to 2013. During this same time period, the national average rose by 1 point.
  • Washington, D.C. made the greatest gains from 2003 to 2013 by increasing their score 24 points which equates to nearly two and half years of learning. Boston and Atlanta had the next highest gains with 17 points. Such increases are roughly equivalent to about a year and half worth of learning.
    • Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, and New York City made no significant improvements during this time period.
  • Six urban districts scored higher than the 2013 average for students attending schools in large cities. In 2011, eight districts outperformed the national average.
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 20 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient varied dramatically among urban districts, from 50 percent in Charlotte to just 4 percent in Detroit.

8th Grade Math

  • Three districts (Washington, Fresno, and Charlotte significantly increased their scores from 2011 to 2013. On the other hand, Cleveland was the only district to see a significant decline in their scores (-6 points) during this time period.
  • From 2003 to 2013, 7 out of 10 districts made significant gains in their performance, with Atlanta (23 points) and Boston (22 points) all making gains roughly equivalent to two years’ worth of additional learning.
    • Charlotte, Cleveland, and New York City were the only districts that didn’t make significant progress during this time period.
  • Four urban districts (Austin, Charlotte, Hillsborough County, and Kentucky’s Jefferson County scored higher than the 2013 average for students attending schools in large cities.
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the proficient achievement level increased from 16 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above proficient varied just as it did at the fourth grade level. Charlotte had the highest percentage at 40 percent, while Detroit once again had the lowest percentage at just 3 percent.

*All cities in the nation with populations of 250,000 or more.

2013TUDATable1

TUDA Table 2

For more information on NAEP check out: The Proficiency Debate: How NAEP Achievement Levels are Defined

Alexis Rice|December 20th, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , , |

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