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THE NATION’S REPORT CARD: Urban Districts Fall Behind National Average in Science Exam

“The situation is worse in the big cities. And, unfortunately, the achievement deficit in the cities is considerably greater in science than it is in reading or math.”

nations report card

Most of the seventeen urban school districts participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 science assessment scored below the national average, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics. The report, The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), finds that of the districts involved, Austin was the only one to break the urban mold and score on the same level as the national average in grade eight, as shown in the graphic to the right. In fourth grade, students in Austin, Charlotte, and Jefferson County (Louisville, KY), met the national average.

Released in January 2011, The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009, presents results of the 2009 NAEP in science at grades four, eight, and twelve, and reveals that too many students are still not deemed proficient. Nationally, 38 percent of students are performing below the basic level in eighth grade. Among the studied districts in the Science 2009 TUDA report, the eighth-grade results range from 80 percent of students scoring below basic in Detroit and Baltimore to 39 percent of students scoring below basic in Austin. In fourth grade, 29 percent of students perform below basic nationally the results in the urban districts range from 74 percent below basic in Detroit to 30 percent below basic in Charlotte.

In a recent Education Week articleAlan Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, said, “The situation is worse in the big cities. And, unfortunately, the achievement deficit in the cities is considerably greater in science than it is in reading or math.”

The TUDA report also examines how the participating urban districts stacked up against large cities, defined as cities with a population 250,000 or more people. Average scores for both fourth and eighth graders in Austin, Charlotte, Jefferson County, and Miami-Dade were higher than the scores for their respective peers in large cities overall. However, on the other end of the scale, Baltimore City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia had lower scores than the large city average in both grades.

Within each district, variations in performance often existed between student subgroups. Among the districts where overall scores were higher than the average score for all large cities in both grades, Austin was the only district to have higher scores for white, black, Hispanic, and low-income students in eighth grade as well. Houston also scored higher than the large city average for all of the aforementioned student subgroups in both grades; however, its overall fourth-grade science score was not significantly different. In another example, New York City’s average fourth-grade science score was not significantly different from the fourth-grade score in all large cities; however, low-income fourth-grade students in that district had a higher average score than their large city peers.

The TUDA report is careful to note that the student demographics are vastly different for the nation, as compared to demographics in the nation’s large cities and participating urban districts. Across the nation, there is a higher percentage of white students than minority students in both fourth and eighth grades, while the reverse is true for large cities and participating urban districts. The percentages of low-income students, as measured by eligibility in the National School Lunch Program, range from 47 to 100 percent across the districts. Nationally, 48 percent of fourth graders and 43 percent of eighth graders were low-income students.

In each of the participating districts, between 900 and 2,200 students were assessed at each grade. The assessment measured knowledge in the content areas of physical science, life science, and earth and space sciences.

To read the full report visit

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