Yesterday, results of national tests that compare student performance in math and reading among 21 big-city school districts were released.
These tests, which are formally called the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s Trial Urban District Assessment, allow us to compare student performance among cities in different states. That’s something that we can’t do otherwise because the state standardized tests that students take differ from state to state. So the tests are sometimes called the “nation’s report card.”
The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees these tests, has a ton of information on them. But we’ve boiled it down to five key things that you should understand about the Nation’s Report Card: Urban Edition.
- Cleveland, Ohio’s second-largest school district, is the only Ohio school district that participates. Stephaan Harris, a spokesperson for the board that oversees the tests, says districts have to volunteer to participate. The governing board then selects a few new districts each year; this year, the Albuquerque, Dallas and Hillsborough County (Fla.) districts joined the testing. So why doesn’t Columbus, Ohio’s largest school district, participate? A Columbus district spokesperson said only that the district’s assessment coordinator was “unfamiliar” with the test and that the district had not volunteered to participate.
- Cleveland is in the bottom tier of urban school districts. Looking at fourth and eighth grade reading and math (the only grades and subjects included in this particular report card), 11 percent or less of Cleveland students were on or above grade-level. That’s not much different from the district’s performance eight years ago. And the performance gaps between white students and Black and Hispanic students are as huge as they were in 2003. (WCPN’s Michelle Kanu details the results here.)
- Not all urban school districts are the same. To be participate in the urban version of the nation’s report card, a school district must be located in a city of 250,000 or more and have a majority Black, Hispanic or low-income student enrollment. But that gives a lot of room for differences. For example: In Cleveland, a majority of students are Black. In Albuquerque, about 1 percent are. About 6 percent of Cleveland students are learning English. In Houston, about a third are.
- The state tests “count.” This one doesn’t. As we wrote earlier, If students don’t pass the Ohio Achievement Tests, their school can get a low grade from the state. Getting a low grade from the state means that a school has to engage in all kinds of “improvement efforts.” Plus, it’s embarrassing for school administrators. So many districts place a high priority on preparing students to pass state standardized tests, and tell their students they’re important. The stakes are lower for the nation’s report card: Cleveland’s performance earned the district a few negative stories, but no state sanctions.
- The bar is set high. The state of Ohio and the federal agency that administers the Nation’s Report Card tests, set the scores required to “pass” their tests at different levels. For example, in past years, a student could pass the Ohio fourth grade reading test but fail the national fourth grade reading test.