DC Shines Bright in NAEP Test Scores

It’s hard to dispute the hard evidence that keeps coming in: DC’s public schools are improving, and at an impressive clip. Over the summer, the “career-readiness” PARCC test showed four years of steady test score gains. It’s a similar story with today’s release of this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tests reading and math in fourth and eight grade across the country.

While a majority of states actually saw declines in NAEP scores, the District bucked the national trend—it was one of only two jurisdictions (along with Mississippi) to have seen improvements in three out of four metrics in 2019. This reflects a steady increase in DC scores over the last few years years, which taken together, reflects remarkably fast gains. As recently as 2011, the District ranked last among states and close to the bottom for cities in all NAEP scores. Now it’s closing in on the state average and is above-average for cities.

We know from Urban Institute analysis that these test scores gains are mostly explained by authentic educational improvement rather than demographic change of the student population. Achievement gaps between demographic sub-groups are still too large, but they are closing. The biggest gains in NAEP scores were among minority groups. And the biggest gains in the city were at DCPS schools and in middle school (eighth grade).

There could be a host of reasons for DC’s relative success. The District has been a stickler for data collection, standards and accountability at a time when many other states are easing off. Quality teaching is part of the story, and so is the city’s big boost to its pre-K system.

We are planning on hosting a breakfast event in November to explore what’s going right in the District’s schools and what more needs to be done to keep the trend on its current trajectory. More details to come on the event soon.