Fresno Unified School District students improve nationally but still behind peers

FRESNO, Calif.

The report reflected the first marked improvement since Fresno Unified joined a group of large school districts in 2009 to see how it measures up against the some of the best in the country. But Fresno Unified District still ranks among the bottom with big disparities between racial and socio-economic groups.

Students in Estela Coronado's 4th grade class at Webster Elementary School are among those making significant strides in math and reading. The campus was identified as a turnaround or low-performing school three years ago. As a result school officials extended the school year by an additional two weeks to address the problem.

While Fresno Unified students are improving academically, federal math and reading test results released Wednesday show student have a long way to go to catch up to their peers nationwide.

"We benchmarked against the best on purpose so we can learn from them and do better than they do," Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said.

Of the 21 school districts who took part in the federal test known as the Trial Urban District Assessment Fresno Unified kids scored at least 21 points lower than the national average in reading and math. And while Hispanic and Asian students made gains Fresno Unified is making little progress to close the academic gap between black and white students. And the results show that English language learners fall the furthest behind.

"We knew we'd be on the far end, but didn't care. We put ourselves out there and said let's see how we can start to climb out of this hole," Hanson said.

The report wasn't all bad Hanson said 8th graders made a seven point jump in reading scores. Overall the district was one of just three to score higher in both subjects in at least one grade level.

Hanson credits the improvement to an increased focus on algebra in grades five through 10 and access to pre-advanced placement courses for students in middle school. Some of the other districts who took part include San Diego, Milwaukee, Detroit and Baltimore.

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