Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students in Large Cities Improving Academically

Fourth and eighth graders in the country’s largest school districts have improved their mastery of  difficult math and English concepts over the past decade but are still behind their peers nationally, according to new federal data.

The results are part of the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing analysis of how much students know through a series of biennial exams known as the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The information released today focuses on 21 of the largest school districts in the nation, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

The new scores provide additional context to the rich batch of data the Education Department released last month through its National Assessment of Educational Progress program (NAEP), which showed how students fared at the state and national level.

Taken together, the TUDA and NAEP data paint a picture of slow improvement over time in many cities, in large part due to rising scores among minority and students from low-income households.

In some city systems where gains were flat compared to previous years, changes in the testing populations help explain the results. Exclusion rates, or the percentages of English language learners or students with disabilities who were exempt from taking the TUDA exam in the past, have decreased. Social scientists say large-sample tests should strive for lower exclusion rates; however, students with disabilities or those who are learning English tend to test poorly compared with other students.

Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, says declining exclusion rates help explain flatter scores in the Texas districts that took part in TUDA this year.

In the past decade, scores for large urban school systems (those in cities with at least 250,000 people) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have risen faster compared those for the rest of the county.

Large city school systems have also seen an increase in the number of proficient and advanced students since 2003:

On average, however, large public school systems still lag behind the rest of the nation’s public schools, though the gap has been cut roughly in half for fourth graders and eighth graders in math.

The school districts of Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and San Diego have shown the most consistent growth in student achievement over the past 10 years. The District of Columbia Public School system, while demonstrating large gains, is considerably smaller than other districts in this list, mainly because charter schools in the federal district aren’t under DCPS’s jurisdiction. According to city data, of the more than 83,000 public school students in D.C., nearly 37,000 are in DC Public Charter Schools (PCS) and roughly 47,000 are in DCPS.

Check out the gains for fourth and eighth grade since 2003 by subject below:

Fourth Grade Math

Eighth Grade Math

Fourth Grade Reading

Eighth Grade Reading

But gains don’t tell the whole story. Some districts exhibit less growth over time because their scores were already high in 2003 compared with districts that post double digit growth. Charlotte, a city system that’s lagged other TUDA districts in growth has the highest overall score in all measures grades and subjects.

Below is a graph comparing TUDA districts to their states and the national average in eighth grade reading. Chicago, New York City and Charlotte have higher scores even though they’ve gained less than city systems that had more ground to gain, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and District of Columbia Public Schools.

Large city school systems tend to be poorer. Pupils who receive subsidized lunches, a widely used metric for gauging student wealth, are much more likely to attend a large city school. Blacks, Native Americans and Hispanic students in the U.S. are much more likely;to rely on the subsidized lunch program. In general, scores for students who receive their lunch for free through the National School Lunch Program are 30 to 40 points lower than the scores of students who don;t participate in the lunch program.

The percentage of eighth graders in a district on free and reduced lunch is visualized below. The percentages are slightly higher for fourth graders.

And finally, here are charts depicting progress over time among students of large urban schools, organized by race or ethnic background. NAEP and TUDA’s scoring system creates four categories of achievement: Below basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. A government board that sets policy for national tests, the National Assessment Governing Board, says its goal is for all students to achieve the level of proficient.

And finally, here are charts depicting progress over time among students of large urban schools, organized by race or ethnic background. NAEP and TUDA’s scoring system creates four categories of achievement: Below basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. A government board that sets policy for national tests, the National Assessment Governing Board, says its goal is for all students to achieve the level of proficient.

The quick summary: In mathematics, whites and Asians are on average at or near proficient, while blacks and Hispanics on average perform above basic. No group reaches proficiency in reading.

Photo sources: All images are from the Nation’s Report Card website.



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