Urban school districts lag behind their peers

Earlier today, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the 2009 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) for fourth and eighth grade science. Unfortunately, results for 2009 show that students in most of our nation’s large urban districts still lag behind their peers nationally at both the 4th and 8th grade levels. Yet, three districts—Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), and Jefferson County (KY)—had similar achievement as the national average in at least one grade level. Unfortunately, due to changes in the assessment, results cannot be compared to those of past years, so it is not possible to determine if districts are making gains in science as they have been in math.

Here are some the highlights from the report:

Fourth Grade

  • Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), and Jefferson County (KY) were the only urban districts to score similarly to the national average. No district scored significantly above the national average.
  • Six urban districts—Austin, Boston (MA), Charlotte, Jefferson County, Miami-Dade (FL), and San Diego (CA) — did score higher than the national average for students attending schools in large cities (cities of populations of 250,000 or more).
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic level varied dramatically among urban districts, from 71 percent in Charlotte to just 27 percent in Detroit.

Eighth Grade

  • Austin was the only district to score similarly to the nation as a whole.
  • Five urban districts—Austin, Charlotte, Houston (TX), Jefferson County, and Miami-Dade–scored higher than the national average for students attending schools in large cities.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic level varied just as it did at the fourth grade level. Austin had the highest percentage at 61 percent, while Detroit (MI) and Baltimore City (MD) were the lowest at 20 percent.


Not being able to compare results to past years limits the conclusions we can draw from this report, since it prevents us from determining what gains these districts have made over the past decade. However, the report does show that most urban districts are far from achieving at the same levels as the average public school nationally. What the report does show is that some districts are much closer to the achievement levels of the average district nationwide. Why some large districts perform much better, even with similar students, is an important question to answer.  Answering this question is the key to determing what can be done to improve our nation’s large urban schools. — Jim Hull

  NAEP Achievement Levels
Districts Grade 4 Grade 8
Basic and above Proficient and above Basic and above Proficient and above
National 71 33 62 29
Large Cities 66 19 44 17
Atlanta (GA) 52 19 33 10
Austin (TX) 65 31 61 33
Baltimore City (MD) 31 5 20 20
Boston (MA) 62 17 39 14
Charlotte (NC) 70 33 52 22
Chicago (IL) 44 11 29 7
Cleveland (OH) 30 4 26 6
Detroit (MI) 26 4 20 20
Fresno (CA) 28 8 34 9
Houston (TX) 55 16 49 18
Jefferson County (KY) 70 33 57 24
Los Angeles (CA) 45 11 33 9
Miami-Dade (FL) 66 24 49 18
Milwaukee (WI) 44 12 28 5
New York City (NY) 56 18 38 13
Philadelphia (PA) 38 8 25 6
San Diego (CA) 65 29 49 20

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