Yes, Our Urban Kids Is Learning


I didn’t write about this when the results were announced last week, but we now have another year’s worth of data from the NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment, a measure of academic progress in big-city school districts. So how are our urban kids doing? Bob Somerby summarizes the results from 2003 through 2011:

Fourth grade math: According to those data, black fourth-graders gained eight points in reading during that eight-year span. So did Hispanic fourth-graders. Kids receiving reduced-price lunch gained nine points during that span. (This includes children of all races and ethnicities.) Kids receiving free lunch (the “really poor children”) gained eight points too.

Fourth grade reading: Black fourth-graders gained eight points. Hispanic students gained six points. Reduced-price students gained seven points. Free lunch kids also gained seven.

Eighth grade math: Black eighth-graders gained ten points. Hispanic students gained eleven. Reduced-price kids gained ten points. Free lunch kids gained twelve.

Eighth grade reading: Black eighth graders gained four points. Hispanic students gained seven points. Reduced-price students gained five points. Free lunch kids gained seven.

Not every big city participates in TUDA, but most of the biggest have participated since 2003, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. And these results are consistent with plenty of other NAEP results: poor and minority kids are still doing a lot worse than middle-class and non-minority kids, but they are making progress. Likewise, although there’s no data for 11th or 12th graders, which means we don’t really know if these gains are permanent, they are gains. Given the usual NAEP rule of thumb that ten points is equal to one grade level, these urban kids have improved their math and reading performance by anywhere from half a grade level to a full grade level in just eight years.

There are plenty of nits to pick with data like this, and I’ve picked some of them in the past. Still, why is it that progress like this so rarely gets reported? It’s fairly impressive, no?

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