TUDA Results Demonstrate Urgent Need for Reform

December 18, 2013 posted by Eric Lerum

Today the National Council on Education Statistics released results from the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).  Administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—TUDA focuses in on the nation’s large urban districts, allowing for student growth and proficiency comparisons between our cities.

Nationally, the results are, in a word, gut-wrenching. Never has the urgency of improving education in this country been clearer. Policymakers must act quickly and decisively to pass and faithfully implement policies that improve student achievement. We need radical, wholesale change. And we need it now.

Across the 21 districts tested in TUDA, proficiency rates are appallingly low. Only about one in four students are proficient in fourth grade reading, eighth grade reading, and eighth grade math; only about one in three are proficient in fourth grade math. That means that in an average urban classroom, only a handful of students are achieving on grade level and thus on track to find success in college and beyond.

When we look at specific cities, the numbers are even more depressing. In Detroit, only 3 percent of 8th graders were proficient in math, and only 8 percent in reading. In Philadelphia, only 16 percent of 8th graders scored proficient in reading; only 18 percent of 8th graders in Los Angeles scored proficient in math.

This is unacceptable.

What’s even worse is that progress is scarce. Out of all tests that were administered—four tests in each of 21 urban districts—only 14 results showed statistically significant gains. Students in our cities are achieving at shockingly low levels, and in most cases things aren’t getting better.

So where do we go from here?

Well, we can focus on the (albeit few) bright spots and see what we can learn.

The most encouraging results on TUDA came from Washington, D.C. The district in the nation’s capital was the only system to show statistically significant gains in all four subjects.

Recent reforms help explain D.C.’s progress. Over the past several years they have invested heavily in teacher quality through the implementation of a comprehensive teacher evaluation framework and targeted professional development. A recent study found that the framework, known as IMPACT, was working as intended:  good teachers were getting better, struggling teachers were improving, and ineffective teachers were exiting the classroom.

Furthermore, D.C. was an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards and has been dedicated to faithful implementation, despite challenges. They gave teachers and schools the resources and training necessary to put the standards in action, and students responded.

Is this the magic recipe? Honestly, I’m not sure there is just one – my guess is every city requires something a little different and that there’s no single approach that works every time. What I think we can take away for sure is smart, sustained, student-centered reforms make a difference for kids. Policymakers in our cities and across the country should take that to heart.

Yet while these gains are a cause for optimism, we can’t forget that there is an incredible amount of work to be done. Even with this year’s progress, D.C.’s proficiency rates still lag behind the national large city average, and large achievement gaps persist. This is no time for complacency. We need to push forward even faster.

Hopefully these shocking results end the “debate” about whether our nation’s education system is in crisis. If we truly want all kids—regardless of race, zip code, or income—to receive a great education, we need more than incremental change and piecemeal approaches to improving schools. We need to change up the way we’re doing things and quit settling for policies that upset the least number of people. There’s one group that matters most right now – students. And their futures are on the line.

What else do policymakers need to hear?