Miami-Dade's 4th-graders stand out among big-city students in reading and math test

Miami teachers can only afford 9 percent of area listings.
Miami teachers can only afford 9 percent of area listings. Miami Herald

States and urban school districts across the country brought home their national report cards today, and both Florida and Miami-Dade showed impressive results.

Fourth-graders in Miami-Dade public schools ranked first among 27 large urban districts in reading and second in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test considered the gold standard to compare how well fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country understand core subjects and chart their progress over time. The fourth-graders also scored above the national average for public schools and saw slightly higher marks than in 2015, the last time the assessment was administered.

In the state-to-state results, which compare the results of fourth- and eighth-graders, Florida stood out as the only state in the country to see significant improvements in its math scores and in eighth-grade reading scores over the past two years.

Among the 27 urban school districts that opted in to have their results compared on a district-to-district level, the three Florida districts that participated in the math and reading assessments did well. In addition to Miami-Dade, Duval and Hillsborough students took home top marks.

"Miami-Dade’s results for what is widely considered the Nation’s Report Card suggest that academic standards, instructional rigor and student achievement continue to move on an upward trend in our school district," Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement. "This is an impressive achievement that our School Board, students, teachers, employees and the entire community can celebrate.”

The local results came against a national backdrop of stagnating test scores. The country's fourth- and eighth-graders have improved little to none in math and reading overall between 2015 and 2017. The national results also showed a growing gap between struggling students and top performers.

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But it wasn't all bad. Overall, average reading and math scores are up from the early 1990s, when students first started taking the test, the National Assessment Governing Board said in a statement. The gap between the scores of white and black fourth-graders has also shrunk.

“I’m pleased that eighth-grade reading scores improved slightly but remain disappointed that only about one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students read at the NAEP proficient level,” said former Michigan Gov. John Engler, the board chairman, in a statement. “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students. We must do better for all children.”

At the local level there was also plenty of room for improvement.

While Miami-Dade students largely outperformed their peers in the 26 other urban districts that participated in the assessment, the eighth-grade results weren't as impressive as those of the fourth-graders.

Eighth-grade reading and math scores in Miami-Dade public schools were below the national average, although at or above the average for other urban districts. Just a quarter of the district's eighth-graders scored proficient or advanced in math, compared to 26 percent of students in large urban districts as a whole and 34 percent nationwide.

The Miami-Dade school district is in the process of rethinking middle schools. In the past, the district has seen that students in grades six through eight studying at K-8 centers tend to do better on state assessments than their peers in traditional middle schools, said Gisela Feild, an administrative director who oversees assessments and research for the school district.

Kyra Gurney: 305-376-3205; @KyraGurney