Moments ago, the National Center for Education Statistics released its so-called Nation's Report Card, wherein the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences rank fourth- and eighth-grade public school students from 21 urban districts using math and reading scores. And for the first time ever the Dallas Independent School District participated in the testing, which involves taking a representative sample of student scores from norm-reference tests administered in the spring.
It'll take a good, long while to sort through the data, which includes not only test scores but demographic breakdowns for each of the participating districts. Dallas's student population, for those wondering, is 71 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African-American and 5 percent Anglo, with 92 percent of its kids getting free or reduced-price lunches; half are considered English-language learners. Only Detroit has a smaller percentage of white students; only Los Angeles has a higher concentration of Hispanic students.
A quick reading of the results shows that when it comes when it comes to math, according to the NCES in its 130-page report, "Scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in Albuquerque, Dallas, and New York City were not significantly different from the scores for students in large cities." In reading overall, Dallas was among nine big cities, including Detroit and Baltimore, ranking lower than its big-city counterparts taking part in the study. And when it comes to reading, says the report, there is "a 24-point score gap between higher- and lower-income students" amongst DISD's fourth-graders; the gap shrinks to 16 points by eight grade.
DISD officials point back to those demographics and ask you take those into consideration when reading the scores.
"When you have a high percentage considered English-language learners and compare that to a district with significantly fewer English-language learners -- like Baltimore, which has 1 percent, or Atlanta, which has 1 percent -- that will alter your reading results, " DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander tells Unfair Park this morning. "The picture's not as bleak. You have to dig deeper to see it. It still gives you a road map. You're looking at as different set of students. That's not an excuse, it's just a fact. If you were to do a comparison of our Hispanic students with other Hispanic students from around the country, our students stack up extremely well. And if you look at African-American students, we're right along that national average and, in some places, better. And if you look at where we are with students with free and reduced-price lunch, we're doing well. That's the good news in the report.
"The other part, of course, is we have some challenges in reading. That's the good thing about being part of a nationwide assessment -- you get a better feel for where we are. For the last five, six years we've seen increases in our TAKS scores in reading, and we felt like we're making progress, but when you see our scores compared to students from around the country, you can see we have a way to go."
By no means is this a complete look at the district: In fourth-grade math, only 1,700 students were given the test; 1,400 took it in eighth-grade math. For the reading report: 1,800 fourth-graders and 1,300 eight-graders were assessed in DISD.
Below are DISD's numbers, along with a press release and a collection of charts and graphs handed out by the district this morning; read the whole package. Interim Superintendent Alan King is upfront about the reading results: There's much work to be done. But he's cautiously optimistic about math: "Dallas ISD, along with our peer districts in Austin and Houston, is at the top of the list in mathematics performance by ELL students. To see that on a national report card is a credit to the work in education reform in Texas but we know there is still room to grow."
One of the more disturbing results from today's release: Thirty-six percent of eighth-graders in the district said they never, or hardly ever, read just for the fun of it -- among the highest in the country, by far. "That tells you we need to do much more to encourage our students to read," Dahlander says. "We wouldn't see that if we hadn't been involved in this assessment. It's really helpful. And it was Dr. [Michael] Hinojosa who really pushed for us to be part of this. He felt it was important for us to compare ourselves to other districts." You can do likewise below.NAEP 2011 Math and Reading Results TUDA DallasISD-Final2011 NAEP NR