The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment for Reading results released this morning, and I have been going through the “Report Card” (NCES 2010-459) of the results.
Here is how the district’s fourth grade whites and blacks compared for reading proficiency (percent of students scoring at or above “Proficient” on the NAEP) to their counterparts in the rest of the nation’s large city school systems.
In addition, the percentages shown here, which come from the well-regarded NAEP, are at very strong odds with the sorts of percentages Louisville has been claiming with its “Every1Reads” program. According to Every1Reads, 90.6 percent of Louisville’s students were reading “At or Above Grade Level” in 2008. The NAEP scores above blow a hole right through that seriously misleading and inflated claim.
Furthermore, even the results shown above are still somewhat overly favorable to Louisville. When you look at Jefferson County’s student demographics, schools in this district enjoy many unique advantages over schools in typical large cities elsewhere in the United States. While it is hard to tie this down to the exact impact on the proficiency rate numbers, it is clear that lower poverty rates coupled with far lower populations of minorities and English language learners give Jefferson County huge advantages. Very simply, in any comparison Jefferson County should get much better results compared to other large cities than those shown in the two graphs above.
Read on to learn more about that. You probably won’t be able to find out about this elsewhere.
The Jefferson County Public School District isn’t like most large city school systems. Jefferson County incorporates a significant amount of the type of territory normally found in separate, suburban school districts elsewhere. Demographic information reported along with the new NAEP results make that clear. In fact, the data shown below makes it questionable that Jefferson County can even fairly be considered an “Urban” district.
For example, this first graph shows some of the fourth grade student demographic information for Jefferson County Public Schools and the nationwide average demographics for all the large cities in the country.
Notice that Jefferson County has far more white fourth grade students in its schools than is typical across other large cities in the country. In Jefferson County schools, 54 percent of the fourth grade enrollment is white, while on average in the nation’s large cities whites only make up 20 percent of the students.
Other factors also give Jefferson County an unfair advantage in simplistic score comparisons.
Across the nation, the NAEP reports that large city fourth grade populations include a very significant Hispanic membership that now runs to an amazing 42 percent of the overall student enrollment.
Furthermore, many of those Hispanic students in other cities are still learning English. Across the nation, nearly one out of five (18 percent) of all the fourth grade students in large city school systems, regardless of race, are still learning English. That puts a huge burden on those other cities’ school systems and drags down NAEP scores in those other cities significantly.
In a further indication of the more suburban character of Jefferson County versus other large cities, the fourth grade poverty rate for Kentucky’s largest school district is notably lower. While 71 percent of the fourth grade students in all the nation’s large cities are enrolled in the federal free and reduced cost lunch program, which I used for the poverty indicator in the graph above, a notably lower 59 percent were in the same category in Jefferson County.
Finally, Jefferson County excluded slightly more of its learning disabled students in the fourth grade than the rest of the nation’s large city school systems did. Excluding more of these very low scoring students tends to inflate scores, as well.
While the exclusion percentages for fourth grade are not terribly different, this next graph shows there was a notable difference in exclusion of eighth grade students in the recent NAEP, which would add more inflation to Jefferson County’s scores for these older students.
Very simply, these demographic issues lead to more severe educational challenges in other cities compared to those found in Jefferson County. As a consequence, the proficiency rate differences shown in the first two graphs in this blog should be considered as understating the real situation, and it is clear that Jefferson County is not performing well.