Press Release

Ed Trust Statement on the 2007 Urban District Results in Reading and Mathematics from The Nation’s Report Card

Today’s results from the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) for urban school districts in Reading and Mathematics send three clear messages:

  • There has been strong improvement in academic performance over the past five years, particularly among our lowest-performing students. In fact, our big-city districts often gain more than their respective states.
  • The large differences between districts serving similar populations of children make clear that demographics aren’t destiny and education policy and practice make extraordinary differences for students.
  • We still have a long road to travel in our national effort to close the achievement gaps that persist in American public schools.

“The educators in these school districts are putting the lie to the notion that poor and minority kids can’t learn,” said Kati Haycock, President of The Education Trust. “Our next challenge is to ensure that these kids don’t just improve, but that they excel. To meet the challenge, we need to give the teachers more and better supports while we demand more and better results for these students.”

Strong Improvement

There’s no question that all of these districts have a lot of work to do in order to maximize the academic potential of their students. But many are finding stronger gains, especially among poor students and students of color, than their respective states and the nation overall.

Boston, Cleveland*, Los Angeles, and San Diego far outpaced the progress made by their respective states in eighth-grade math in moving African American, Latino, and low-income students up into Basic achievement. In fourth-grade reading, Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Diego all had stronger improvement among their lowest-performers than their respective states.

Students in these districts often also outperform their peers nationwide. Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, and New York City all scored higher than public schools nationally for African American, Latino, and low-income students in fourth-grade math. Low-income Latino students scored higher in fourth-grade reading than the national average for their peers in seven of the 10 participating school districts with data for the student group.

It’s Policy, Not Population

Dramatic disparities in student achievement exist between districts serving similar student populations—suggesting that school- and system-level decisions matter a lot when it comes to the achievement of poor and minority students. For example, low-income African American students in Houston score 23 points higher in eighth-grade reading than low-income African American students in Los Angeles. To grasp the magnitude of this gap, the national achievement gap between African American and White students is 26 scale score points.

“When report after report tell us that there are dramatic differences in achievement between schools and districts that serve very similar students, at what point do we as a country stop blaming a child’s skin color or zip code and start asking more tough questions about what’s happening in these schools?” said Haycock.

Long Road Ahead

Even as these reports reflect some bright points of improvement, the data also show that it is neither fast enough nor far-reaching enough. Despite the aforementioned progress, more than half of the students in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles still are achieving below the Basic level in both fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. And only four of the participating districts have significantly increased eighth-grade reading achievement since 2003.

“While we should applaud these improvements, moving more students up to Basic achievement is hardly the finish line. In fact, we’re barely out of the starting gate,” said Haycock. “But this is a race we can and must win.”

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* Some districts, including Cleveland, excluded far more students with disabilities from these assessments than did others. It is unclear what kind of effect those exclusions may have had on the results.