Science scores for Cleveland predictably low but still inexcusable

Anyone who's followed more than a few releases of NAEP scores recognizes the familiar feeling of disenchantment that accompanies it. Scores are low across subgroups? and criminally low for minority students and low-income kids; trends are flat, stagnant, stalled, barely budging; wide achievement gaps persist. And NAEP illustrates time and time again how proficiency rates according to states' own achievement tests tend to be higher and therefore misleading (check out Fordham's 2007 report, The Proficiency Illusion) ? all the more reason to be happy that Ohio and other states have signed onto Common Core standards in ELA and math.

According to recently released 2009 scores for the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), Cleveland fourth and eighth graders performed just as abysmally in science as they did in reading and math. At least according to NAEP scores, one might say that Cleveland's closest cousin is Detroit (the only district whose students fared worse in science). The bad news takes a variety of forms:

  • Among the 17 participating districts in the NAEP TUDA, eight of them had students in both grades scoring lower than the large city average nationally. Cleveland earns that distinction.
  • In both fourth and eighth grades (according to average scale scores) Cleveland ranks at the very bottom, beating out only Detroit.
  • Scores for Cleveland eighth graders place them in the 21st percentile in science nationally; fourth graders are in the 16th percentile.
  • Not only do Clevelanders fail to reach science proficiency, but 70 percent of fourth graders and 74 percent of eighth graders fail to meet even a basic level of understanding.

It goes without saying that this bodes badly for the economic vitality of that city (and Ohio as a whole).

And, despite the fact that there are other issues in K-12 education front and center at the moment, why has so little been said of Cleveland's science scores? It's a sad day when the predictability of our urban students' scores leads to an attitude of inevitability.

Moreover, as my colleague Emmy pointed out, why aren't Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson -- who've taken a stand on Ohio soil for Akron's Kelley Williams-Bolar, Ohio's collective bargaining bill (SB 5), and the far more tangential issue of the makeup of Ohio's State Board of Education, causing a ruckus over the sorry state of education in one of Ohio's most African American districts?

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

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