To the Editor:
“Urban Students Fold Under Basic Science” (Nov. 29, 2006) reports that 10 urban districts were low scorers in science on a 2005 version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and suggests that national standards and teacher incentives may be possible solutions.
Urban districts also tend to be high-poverty districts; this fact was noted in the NAEP report, but not in your article. The relationship between poverty and test performance is probably the most firmly established result in educational research. NAEP science scores are no exception.
“The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2005 Trial Urban District Assessment of Grades 4 and 8,” the National Center for Education Statistics study cited, shows this. For 4th graders nationwide, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch averaged a score of 135, while those not eligible averaged 162. Results were similar for 8th graders. That’s a huge difference.
Statistical analyses contained in the report, in fact, led its authors to conclude that the “gaps in overall scores may be related, in part, to the greater percentages of low-performing, low-income students in the [urban] districts.” When low-income children in the 10 districts were compared with low-income children in the rest of the nation, differences in science scores were clearly reduced or were even nonexistent.
This suggests that rather than being so concerned with uniform standards, we should make dealing with poverty and providing more resources for schools in high-poverty areas higher priorities.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Ignoring Poverty’s Effect On Urban Science Scores?