Posted on 12/09/11 • Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson chose to have his district join San Diego, Los Angeles and other urban districts participating in the biannual analysis of scores in the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Education Progress. The results for 2011, released this week, were unsettling.
In both reading and math, Fresno ranked among the lowest scoring of 21 urban districts, along with Detroit, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. In one measure, reading scores of fourth grade Hispanic students, who comprise two-thirds of district students, Fresno was at the bottom.
Hanson doesn’t have second thoughts about his decision, nor does he distance himself from NAEP, as other superintendents and leaders in California sometimes do. They often claim that NAEP scores are unimportant, because the national test isn’t aligned with California’s academic standards – or with any particular state’s, for that matter.
“I put us in so that we would have a national benchmark independent of what we do in California,” he said yesterday. “It’s a sobering reminder of how far we have to go.”
NAEP 8th grade math scores for 21 urban districts in 2011.
Fresno Unified certainly has company. California ranked between 46th and 49th among the states this year in reading and math. And Los Angeles Unified’s scores are in the bottom third to half of the urban districts. Only San Diego Unified, the state’s second largest district, with fewer low-income children, was in the top third of urban districts.
What Fresno also has in common with Cleveland, Detroit and Washington, D.C., is poverty. Ninety-three percent of its students qualify for subsidized lunches, and, according to the latest Census figures, 44 percent of its children are in poverty – the highest rate among California’s districts with at least 25,000 students; Stockton is next with 37 percent. Nearly one in six adults in Fresno is unemployed.
Grinding poverty is not an excuse – it’s a reality. Between budget cuts to the district of nearly $100 million over the past few years and state cuts to mental health and other social supports, “it’s a pretty stiff wind we are sailing into,” Hanson said.
NAEP asked eighth graders how often they read for fun outside of school. The 40 percent of Fresno students who responded very seldom or never was highest among children in urban districts (29 percent on average); 10 percent said they read daily, compared with the 16 percent average – in itself alarming.
Fresno joined the Trial Urban District Assessment group for the 2009 tests. Fresno showed no significant improvement in either math or reading in 2011, as was the case with most urban districts. Only Charlotte’s scores rose in reading, and only four cites rose in 4th grade math (Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, and Philadelphia) and six in 8th grade math (Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Detroit, Washington, and Jefferson County, KY). However, Hanson, who’s president of the California Office to Reform Education – the nonprofit collaborative of the seven Race to the Top districts – says there have been encouraging measures of progress not detected by NAEP. The district’s graduation rate has increased 3 percentage points in three years; dropout numbers fell 9 percent, and the 46 point rise in API scores – a state measure – in three years was fifth out of a dozen high-poverty districts, according a comparison group that the district measured.
San Diego and Los Angeles, which have been in the urban assessment group since 2003, well exceeded the average increase for the nation and for large cities during that period in math (14 points for San Diego and 16 points for Los Angeles, on a 500-point scale in eighth grade, compared with seven points for the nation and 12 for large cities). But some of that growth came at the expense of the achievement gap, as higher income and white students excelled at a faster rate. The difference in scores in San Diego between white and black students grew by a third in 4th grade math to 36 points on a 500-point scale and by a third between higher and lower income students. In eighth grade reading, the gap between higher and lower income students in Los Angeles grew from 17 to 30 points from 2003 to 2009.
Here are the math results for the three districts from the 2011 NAEP. Proficiency rates on NAEP and California’s standardized tests can’t be compared, because definitions differ (proficiency on NAEP is more rigorous, and to be categorized as advanced on NAEP is exceedingly difficult.)
Nationwide: 24% Hispanic, 52% White, 16% Black, 5% Asian, 52% low income, 22% English learners
Fresno: 66% Hispanic, White 12%, 9% Black, 12% Asian, 93% low-income, 30% English learners;
Los Angeles: 75% Hispanic, 9% white, 10% black, 5% Asian, 83% low-income, 34% English learners
San Diego: 44% Hispanic, 23% white, 12% black, 15% Asian, 65% low-income, 36% English learners.
4th grade math
National average: 240 pts, 18% below basic, 39% proficient and advanced
Large cities: 233 pts, 26% below basic, 30% proficient and advanced
Fresno Unifed: average 218 pts was 21st percentile for nation, 19th out of 21 urban districts; 44% below basic, 14% proficient and advanced
Los Angeles Unified: average 223 pts was 27th percentile for nation, 15th among urban districts; 37% below basic, 20% proficient and advanced
San Diego Unified: 239 was 46th percentile for nation, 3rd among urban districts; 20% below basic, 39% proficient and advanced
White-Black gap: 25 pts for nation, 29 for large cities, 24 pts Fresno, 28 pts Los Angeles, 36 pts San Diego
White-Hispanic gap: 20 pts for nation, 23 for large cities, 25 pts Fresno, 24 pts Los Angeles, 29 pts San Diego
8th grade math
National average: 283 pts, 28% below basic, 34% proficient and advanced
Large cities: 274 pts, 37% below basic, 26% proficient and advanced
Fresno Unified: average 256 pts was 23rd percentile for nation, tied for 17th out of 21 urban districts; 57% below basic, 13% proficient and advanced;
Los Angeles Unified: average 261 pts was 27th percentile for nation, tied for 16th among urban districts; 51% below basic, 16% proficient and advanced;
San Diego Unified: 278 was 44th percentile for nation; 6th among urban districts; 34% below basic, 32% proficient and advanced;
White-Black gap: 31 pts for nation, 34 for large cities, 37 pts Fresno, 45 pts Los Angeles, 46 pts San Diego (third largest except for Washington and Atlanta among urban districts);
White-Hispanic gap: 23 pts for nation, 27 for large cities, 29 pts Fresno, 36 pts Los Angeles, 39 pts San Diego