The Kids Are Alright (At Least Compared to Those in Other Cities and States)

Luc Schuster

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Twenty-five years after the state's landmark Education Reform Act committed to investments and reforms that helped move our schools to the top of the nation, new data released this week confirm that we remain at the top. In 2017 our public schools outscored those in every other state in each of the National Assessment of Educational Progress' core exams: grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, grade 8 reading and grade 8 math. Below is a 50-state comparison for one of these tests, grade 4 reading, a key early marker for student learning. It's worth noting that even Massachusetts students are, on average, scoring a bit below proficiency (average scale score of 236 vs 238).

Fourth Grade reading results

Looking good, but with educational outcomes strongly correlated with family income, might we be doing well largely because Massachusetts is a more affluent state than most? Fortunately, the NAEP allows us to break out students by income so that we can focus on how well our low-income students do compared with low-income students in other states. While our low-income students don't top the nation in every category, they are tops in two out of four and are above average in the others. (See our state profile for more details like these.)

50 State NAEP Results

This good news should be read with one huge caveat: These are relative rankings, meaning that we're doing well only by comparison to other states (and cities, which we look at next). The NAEP data also show that we are far from having prepared all of our students to thrive fully in college, career and life. Large shares of our students, for instance, still score below the NAEP's definition of "proficiency," meaning that they have not demonstrated complete understanding of core concepts in that subject area. Statewide roughly half of our students are not proficient on NAEP exams, and well over half of Boston students score below proficient. In 4th grade, 49% of students statewide are not proficient in reading, and 71% of Boston students are not proficient in reading.


The NAEP doesn't yet assess outcomes in every American city, but they do administer a Trial Urban District Assessment that allows us to compare outcomes of Boston Public School students with the 26 other cities in their sample. Boston students don't rank at the very top of these urban comparisons like Massachusetts students do compared to other states, but they do rank in the top half for each of the core tests: 8th out of 27 in grade 4 reading, 10th in grade 4 math, 5th in grade 8 reading and 4th in grade 8 math.

Many of the districts that perform better than Boston, however, have far fewer low-income students. When we do a more apples-to-apples comparison, focusing just on the performance of our low-income students compared to those in other cities, we rank very well, even leading the pack in 8th grade.

District Low Income Table

See Boston's city profile for more details like these.