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New Data Analyses Reveal Dynamic Urban Education Landscape

Here at ERS, we are data people. So naturally, last week’s release of biennial NAEP results, along with the release of two other resources that provide deeper insight on student performance data, called out for our attention and reflection.

The national NAEP results were bleak, as was widely reported, representing what NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr called “an unexpected downturn.” Math scores fell for both 4th and 8th graders for the first time in 25 years; reading scores were stagnant in 4th grade and down in 8th grade; and massive national achievement gaps persist.  On the plus side, several large urban districts – including ERS partners Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Boston and Cleveland – did show encouraging gains.

NAEP results are important barometers of performance, but as with any data set, we need to look more closely to draw deeper insight. A new report from The Urban Institute called “Breaking the Curve does this.  Researcher Matthew Chingos adjusted raw scale score from NAEP based on each state’s student population, considering poverty, race, native language and Special Education identification rate.  In this way, Chingos seeks to identify states where students with similar demographic profiles are out-performing their peers in other states who face similar challenges.

For example, states like Florida and Texas – which score below average on national NAEP indices – also serve students with overall greater needs. And compared with many other states, those higher-need students showed greater gains in Florida and Texas from 2003 to 2013.  In fact, that “NAEP scores in all 50 states increased more than would be expected based on demographic shifts between 2003 and 2013.”

In other words, even as student need is increasing – with rising rates of poverty and an increasingly diverse population – some systems are still generating meaningful student growth.

While we celebrate this progress, we still recognize just how much work lies ahead. To help clarify the nature of that challenge, our colleagues at the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) have developed a new online tool that shines a light on the performance challenge in individual systems.

Digging into the rich data set CRPE has assembled, we can examine multiple dimensions of student performance with an eye toward identifying bright spots around the country. In Newark and Cincinnati, for example, more than 30% of students attend schools where results outpace what might otherwise be expected based on student demographics and student achievement in those states.  In Miami, more than a quarter of Black and Hispanic students take advanced math classes. What can system leaders learn from their peers who appear to be on the road toward higher achievement for all students?

CRPE’s accompanying recommendations in many ways align with the implications of the Urban Institute report, as well as ERS’ System 20/20 framework, which forms the foundation of our work with district partners.  These include: ensuring access to rigorous coursework for all students; shifting from aggressive discipline policies to approaches that support learning and growth for all students; working closely with partners across sectors to improve educational outcomes.

This work is hard, and will remain so for some time.  But the evidence presented by both of these new reports remind us that together, we can and are making progress.  Or, as CRPE Director Robin Lake – also a member of our System 20/20 Advisory Board – wrote:

“While the inequities are profound, cities can create schools that serve all students well. Educators can find ways to give more students access to challenging curriculum and a pathway to college and career. The question before us is how we can create those opportunities for all students.”

Our School System 20/20 diagnostic provides district with a beginning assessment of resource and policy decisions and can serve as a guide for specific action. For more information, contact system2020@erstrategies.org.


DeArmond, M. et al. (2015). “Measuring UP: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities.” Center for Reinventing Public Education. http://www.crpe.org/publications/measuring-educational-improvement-and-opportunity-50-cities

Chingos, M. (2015). “Breaking the Curve: Promises And Pitfalls Of Using NAEP Data To Assess The State Role In Student Achievement.” The Urban Institute. http://www.urban.org/research/publication/breaking-curve-promises-and-pitfalls-using-naep-data-assess-state-role-student-achievement/view/full_report


New Data Analyses Reveal Dynamic Urban Education Landscape
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