NAEP: Big Cities Creep Forward On Academic Achievement in 2013

In the United States, public school students in large cities have made modest gains compared to 2011, according to the latest data released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The Nation's Report Card shows that students in large cities have made significant long-term gains, but still some subgroups of students are at very low achievement levels. The report on the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) outlines reading and math achievement for fourth- and eighth-graders in 21 districts, according to Stacy Teicher Khadaroo and Amanda Paulson of The Christian Science Monitor.

The report found that there wasn't much change between 2011 and 2013 and the District of Columbia was the only city to make gains for both subjects and both grades. Most districts, according to the report, have raised scores substantially since 2003, and the gap between the national average and the average for big cities has lessened in that time.

"If you look solely at any two-year testing cycle, the results … sometimes lead observers to conclude that urban schools are not making any headway. But if you stand back from the individual trees, you will see a forest that is growing taller and getting stronger," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

According to Casserly, many cities have boosted scores, improved the portion of students scoring above the "basic" and "proficient" levels, and increased scores more rapidly than the nation as a whole.

"These NAEP data give us the tools we need to ask hard questions about our instructional practices. And the results are giving us even greater confidence that urban education in this nation can be substantially improved," Casserly said.

Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and a senior policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, said urban districts have made some progress over the past 10 years, but they still perform at low levels especially when it comes to low-income African-American and Hispanic students.

School district participation in the TUDA is voluntary and is limited to districts having a population of at least 250,000 with a majority of students with low incomes or racial/ethnic minorities. It is complicated to comparing scores between districts and over time due to the fact that local demographic shifts can have a big impact, but the report presents a picture of the progress in America's cities overall, with certain districts demonstrating particular gains.

The District of Columbia was the standout in 2013 as it made statistically significant gains in both subjects and at both grade levels between 2011 and 2013. The district also made some of the biggest gains in the past decade compared with other TUDA districts, particularly among fourth graders.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement that they were the first tested group to benefit from the city's universal pre-K program.

"If we want to see sustainable, scalable progress for our kids, it's time to invest in strategies such as preparing teachers, giving them the time and tools to teach, providing students with project-based and experiential learning, and providing timely interventions like pre-K and tutoring to help disadvantaged students – as top-performing US districts and countries do," Weingarten said.

12 23, 2013
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