What to Make of the New Urban NAEP Results?

Pretty much everyone has the same headline for today's release of urban NAEP scores -- relatively new data that -- thank god, finally -- allows comparisons among 10 urban districts, the states where they are located, and the nation.

The chart at left shows how the districts compare to each other and the nation on 4th grade reading at or above basic. Down arrows next to your district's name are bad.

But what use to make of the results? The answer: Not too much, but not too little either.


Not surprisingly, the folks at FairTest see the results as a confirmationg that NCLB, and test-driven accountability, are failures.

To my mind, that's going a bit far. The biggest usefuleness of the results to me is to allow educators and advocates in various cities an independent, comparable look at how much children are learning, rather than relying on district or state scores that aren't comparable and are sometimes set much too low. Your superintendent or mayor says things are going great? Now you can verify that.

Or, as the Education Trust puts it, "some urban school districts clearly do a much better job educating children than other districts – powerful evidence that schools and districts make a big difference in student achievement and that low achievement for some groups of students is not inevitable."

For example, the Trust points out that African-American fourth-graders in New York scored 19 points higher in reading than African-American students in Los Angeles. In eighth-grade math, low-income students in Boston scored 24 points higher than low-income students in Atlanta. That's something to talk about.

The results also highlight the need for more of this type of comparable, independent data, which makes state and local test scores look random and weak. (Bring on the national testing debate.)

There is some good news. Eight out of 10 city school districts showed improvement on fourth grade math scores between 2003 and 2005. (Which two didn't?) Six out of 10 city school districts showed significant gains in the share of students who are proficient in reading and math. (Which four didn't?)

In many cases, city school districts are approaching or surpassing the national average on reading and math scores -- wow -- an encouraging sign that the achievement gap between white and minority students is starting to shrink. And, according to the Education Trust, these cities made more progress in the last two years than the country as a whole and the states in which they sit. Not bad.

However, the news is not all good: For 4th graders, there were no changes in the score gaps between White students and their Black or Hispanic counterparts in either subject, according to NAEP. For 8th graders, the average reading score increased in just 1 district, and there were no significant differences in the percentages performing at or above Basic or at or above Proficient in any district.

And there are some caveats, of course. The results are based on samples not the universe of students in each district. (Bring on the sampling debate.) Like other tests, NAEP has set cut scores and descriptors (basic, proficient) that some argue are arbitrary or misleading, and are not always comparable to state cut scores and descriptors. The list of cities included is not complete: Philadelphia, Broward County, and Miami Dade among other big districts do not participate (yet). Last but not least, the arrows showing who does better than who (above) don't always show that the differences can be relatively small, though statistically significant.

Cities show gains in math, less in reading AP
City schools show gains in math CNN
Cities show math gains, less reading progress USAT
Austin and Charlotte Top Federal Test Scores for Urban Districts NYT<
New York Outpaces 10 Other Cities in Gains at Schools NYT
Poor Report Card for 'No Child Left Behind'NPR


Blogger Alexander Russo said...

Here's part of what New York has to say about the new results -- no word from Chicago or LA yet, maybe because they're lagging:

"New York City 4th and 8th grade public school students outperformed their peers in other cities with populations over 250,000 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in both reading and math in 2005, with 4th graders significantly outperforming their counterparts and achieving impressive gains in both reading and math since 2003...

"In reading, 57 % of New York City 4th graders achieved at or above the Basic level, eight percentage points higher than their peers in other large cities. In math, 73% of New York City 4th graders achieved at or above the Basic level, five percentage points higher than their peers in other large cities.

"In addition, New York City’s Black, Hispanic, and low-income 4th grade students not only outperformed similar students in other large cities but also outperformed similar students nationwide."

12:55 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

There are some great charts from the Education Trust that aren't yet online but show that, as noted above, New York does better than most of the other superbig cities.

Chicago usually comes in slightly ahead of LA, and occasionally ahead of the national average as well (such as in 4th grade low income Latino reading scores). The math gap between white and nonwhite is really big in Chicago, as it is between poor and nonpoor.

The only place I see where Chicago really shines is 8th grade Latino scores for reading, which are highest among everyone and higher than the national average as well.

Note that the Trust excludes Houston and Austin because of high exclusion rates for ELLs and SPED kids.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous KDeRosa said...

Er, since when did "basic" become the new "proficient"? These reports are using "basic" like its the standard we're aspiring to. Very misleading.

Once you start looking at how many students in the big cities are actually performing at proficient, you realize how pathetic these latest scores truly are.

Tell me again, why are we celebrating these scores?

11:04 AM  

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