ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Nation’s Report Card on how well urban school districts are educating children finds that public schools in Albuquerque remain near the national average for big-city districts, with scores little changed from two years ago.
With the results of the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment, the report card released Wednesday compares basic reading and math proficiency in Albuquerque Public Schools’ fourth- and eighth-graders with their peers in 20 other big-city school districts.
Superintendent Winston Brooks, in an interview this week, said there are good reasons for optimism:
- This year, APS allowed far fewer exclusions from the tests for children who are just learning English and for special-needs students, which probably helped drive test results lower.
- Albuquerque children, once again, outperformed their statewide peers, a finding that bucks the national trend in most other large districts involved in the TUDA study. In most cases, the urban districts scored lower than their states.
- APS students “continue to hold our own or improve,” Brooks said, compared with children from many of the 20 other large districts measured in the TUDA study.
“I am pleased,” Brooks said, pointing to APS rankings among the districts, not the raw scores.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress administers the exams. Two months ago, NAEP published the Nation’s Report Card comparing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. For those scores, APS’ results were included in New Mexico’s, which came in near the bottom in all categories.
In the TUDA results comparing APS to other urban districts, the only backslide in ranking occurred in the eighth-grade math tests, in which Albuquerque students dropped from eighth place two years ago to ninth this year. The percentage of students at or above the NAEP’s “basic” rating also dropped one point, from 63 percent to 62 percent.
However, eighth-grade reading scores rose two percentage points, from 64 percent to 66 percent. The fourth-grade students who were tested in math also dropped one percentage point, but reading scores rose one point.
“Basic” as used in NAEP denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade assessed.
The NAEP scores are higher than those posted by APS students on the statewide Standard-Based Assessment given annually. Those results were released last summer.
In addition to APS, participants in NAEP include such huge districts as New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami-Dade, Chicago and Atlanta.
The assessments were administered from Jan. 28 to March 8, 2013, to fourth- and eighth-graders from schools that are selected to be representative of the district as a whole. About 3,000 students from each of the 21 school districts were selected for each grade and subject. In Albuquerque, roughly 1,600 fourth-graders and 1,300 eighth-graders took the tests.
Brooks said the TUDA reading tests were given only in English, not Spanish, while the math assessments were offered in both languages. Considering the higher-than-average percentage of Spanish-speaking students in Albuquerque, the results are another indication that children from the Duke City are doing well, he said.
Besides each other, the districts are measured against a composite of large cities and the national average. So-called “large cities” include public schools located in the urbanized areas of cities with populations of 250,000 or more. As such, “large city” is not synonymous with “inner city,” TUDA officials said.
APS is the 28th largest school district in the United States. Participation in TUDA is voluntary.
The study notes that participating school districts and large cities tend to have higher concentrations of African-American, Latino, low-income and English-language learners than the nation as a whole.
Two-thirds, or 67 percent, of Albuquerque’s public school students are Latino, compared to one-fourth or 25 percent nationwide, according to the study.
In 2011, the first year Albuquerque was a part of TUDA, the district chose to exclude an average of 5 percent – the maximum allowed – of its special-needs students and English-language learners from those tested. This year, APS exclusion rates were down considerably.
For example, in 2011, 7.3 percent of eighth-graders were excluded from the reading test. This year, APS cut that exclusion rate to 2 percent. Similarly, 5.2 percent of grade-four readers were excluded two years ago, compared with 0.7 percent this year.
The same applies to the math tests. In 2011, 2.8 percent of fourth-graders and 3.4 percent of eighth-graders were excluded. This year, the figures were down to 1.2 percent and 1.5 percent respectively.
If the exclusion rates had remained at 5 percent, Brooks said, the APS scores would likely have been significantly higher.
In the latest findings, APS was one of five districts that fared better than the home state. The latest findings for large school districts show that Albuquerque children have more in common with urban kids coast to coast, in cities as disparate as Boston, Detroit and San Diego.