San Diego gets its report card: District "outperformed the state and the country" in latest NAEP tests

Posted: Friday, November 1st 2019

Remember report card day, when every once in a while those grades would make it onto the refrigerator door as a proud display of hard-fought improvement or stellar work?

The U.S. Department of Education issued The Nation’s Report Card this week, and the San Diego Unified School District scored high marks, outperforming other large school districts in California and nationwide.

Additionally, San Diego Unified students made gains in some subjects that saw declines in almost every other big city.

“San Diego Unified has outperformed other urban school districts… while eighth-grade reading scores for students in California and the country as a whole either stagnated or declined,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Mike Casserly, executive director for the Council of the Great City Schools, highlighted the significance of these results. “These gains over the last couple of cycles show that San Diego is one of the fastest improving school districts in the nation,” he said.

In other words, this one goes straight to the refrigerator door.

According to results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, the district’s fourth- and eighth-graders maintained strong gains from prior years in reading and math, and bested students across the state and in large cities across the nation.

San Diego Unified and 26 other large urban districts across the nation, including Boston,  Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade, and New York City, also participate in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) component of the Nation’s Report Card, which enables district-level performance results every two years. In the 2019 NAEP, San Diego Unified fourth-graders outperformed their counterparts in 21 TUDA districts in both reading and math; and district eighth-graders outperformed 23 TUDA districts in both reading and mathematics.

San Diego Unified’s growing success with literacy education is the result of well-planned and deliberate work executed by teachers and support staff. 

“We start our focus on literacy as soon as our little ones enter pre-K and kindergarten, and we just keep building on it year after year,” said Superintendent Cindy Marten. “We don’t just define literacy as decoding words, we also teach mathematical literacy and social-emotional literacy because we know what our students need to be successful in school and beyond.”

Compared to the 2017 results, San Diego Unified students made modest gains but continued their upward trend in fourth-grade reading and math and in eighth-grade reading; eighth-grade math remained unchanged. Although moderate, the score changes for district students are made notable by significant declines experienced by public schools across the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade reading, and in eighth-grade math. Public schools statewide also experienced significant declines in eighth-grade reading. In fourth-grade math, public schools in large cities and across the nation posted significant gains compared with 2017; the district posted its largest overall score gain of 3 points in this area as well.

“On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, San Diego schools continued their relentless march toward excellence, showing gains in more subjects and grade levels than the vast majority of other cities,” Casserly also said in a statement from the Council of the Great City Schools, the organization that represents 69 of the nation’s largest urban public school districts.

San Diego Unified’s 2017 and 2019 results appear to mitigate a decline in fourth-grade math scores in 2015, which was attributed largely to challenges that came with the first-year implementation of the Common Core mathematics curriculum. With the latest results, the district’s long-term data since 2003 maintain the generally upward trend overall and for most of its student groups. Despite these gains, however, performance gaps persist and, in some cases, have widened especially between students who are eligible for government-subsidized meals, and those who are not.

This good news comes on the heels of recent research from UCLA and a Learning Policy Institute study which found the academic gains in San Diego Unified were broad and included many students from historically disadvantaged communities.

The Nation’s Report Card, first administered in 1969, is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation’s students know and can do in subjects such as mathematics, reading, science, and writing. Standard administration practices are implemented to provide a common measure of student achievement.”

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