Center for American Progress

What is the Urban National Assessment Data Telling Us?

What is the Urban National Assessment Data Telling Us?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress' most recent Trial Urban District Assessment shows that not all city schools are created equal.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress released its latest Trial Urban District Assessment on November 15th. The TUDA assesses the performance of fourth and eighth grade students in reading and mathematics from 11 participating districts: Atlanta, Chicago, the District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, San Diego, and Austin.

The development of TUDA came from a belief that urban districts should be assessed independently from the national report card. Yet as the recent TUDA reports show, not all urban districts are alike.

The report reveals that although the highest scoring districts have the best performance overall, only certain groups of students are achieving these high scores and other less advantaged students are stalled. The largest overall gains—as opposed to the highest scores—are being made by districts that are increasing low-income and minority students’ scores. These districts deserve unique recognition, because despite low rankings, their minority subgroups are improving with greater speed than their counterparts in the best performing districts. If the goal is to close the achievement gap, these districts are illustrating real progress and real signs of success.

As the chart below shows, Charlotte and Austin, and New York City and Boston to a lesser degree, obtained the highest scores in the 2007 Urban NAEP math and reading assessments.

The Urban NAEP’s findings on achievement gains show very different results. The chart below shows the districts with the highest gains in each assessment. Every 10 points equals approximately one school grade of improvement.

Atlanta and Boston have attained the greatest gains among the 11 urban districts. Both illustrate the possibilities for improvement by disadvantaged youth. Atlanta reveals stunning improvements for African American students and Boston reveals equally remarkable improvements from low-income students.

A major source of Atlanta’s eighth grade test score increase comes from gains made by Black students. These students increased their reading scores by 9 points since 2002 and their mathematics scores by 12 points since 2003. Atlanta’s test scores are not being carried by their relatively affluent students since low-income students made similar gains as African American students as a group. These are major steps toward closing the achievement gap.

Boston had the highest gains in mathematics for both fourth and eighth graders. However, these achievements are not due just to advancements made by their more privileged students—these achievements can also be seen in the test scores of low-income test takers. Boston’s fourth grade low-income students made a 13-point gain in mathematics—a rate 2.6 times greater than the national average. Eighth grade low-income students made a 15-point gain—a rate 3.75 times greater than national average. If Boston’s low-income students were to continue with their previous rates of improvement, in four years Boston’s fourth grade low-income students would catch up to the national average and their eighth grade low-income students would surpass the nation by 2 points. Though Boston was not at the top of TUDA’s rankings this year, it is promising news for the future.

Assessment scores of minority students in these districts are still below the national average, yet they are making progress in closing achievement gaps. The Urban NAEP results are a snapshot of what is happening around the county. The districts with the largest gains should be studied closely. In-depth analysis of the policies and procedures they have implemented over the last few years may provide others with helpful lessons ripe for duplication. Effective leadership and implementation of promising policy can provide urban students with supports for their academic success.

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