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LAUSD chief Carvalho: Los Angeles students did well on the ‘Nation’s Report Card’. Why is that so hard to believe?

Alberto M. Carvalho | December 1, 2022

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The recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are the latest indication of what we in the Los Angeles Unified School District already know — our students are demonstrating tremendous resiliency after the pandemic because of the incredible educators dedicating their time and energy to the families of Los Angeles. The tests, which assessed fourth and eighth graders in reading and math, showed students in Los Angeles Unified far surpassing expectations following pandemic disruptions and demonstrating greater growth than their peers around the country.

If you want to know what’s really behind our scores, come see the teams of educators fostering the magic of education in L.A.’s schools. You’ll find teachers deeply committed to the children in their classrooms. Our teachers take hours of training to excel in providing rigorous learning experiences both online, when we were at the height of the pandemic, and back in the classroom once it was safe to return. Our educators are identifying and addressing students’ learning and achievement gaps — an area where teachers nationally lack confidence, according to survey data.

The district has been intentional in implementing interventions to address the learning loss from the pandemic. We launched the All Families Connected initiative, which provided hotspots and high-speed internet access to family homes to reduce the digital divide and provide equitable access to connectivity. We’ve increased instructional time through programs like Acceleration Days, which adds four optional days to the school calendar for teachers to work with students who need additional support.

More than 100,000 students participated in Los Angeles Unified’s high-quality summer school to make up ground lost during the pandemic. The district has been aggressive in offering tutoring to every student, either virtually through on-demand, 24/7 programs or at school through high-dosage options that provide individual, customizable instruction. We have also focused on attendance and student outreach to ensure that students come to class. On Nov. 4 alone, 400 volunteers across the district made 7,000 home visits to meet students who confronted challenges that inhibited their regular attendance the past year. Our iAttend initiative has successfully identified reasons for student chronic absenteeism, implemented responses and, just within the past year, decreased chronic absenteeism (15-plus days absent) by 5% and increased excellent attendance (seven or fewer days absent) by 3%.

The challenges persist. There is still more to do. We’re not fully recovered from the pandemic, and there are opportunity gaps that pre-date COVID that desperately need addressing.

Despite these difficulties and hardships, our students are excelling, which makes the naysayers, questioners and skeptics of our NAEP results all the more frustrating — those who would cite data anomalies or outlier results, or simply say our scores don’t sit right. Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the Nation’s Report Card, has confirmed the accuracy and validity of our test scores after NCES verified its results numerous times. Questions about whether Los Angeles Unified’s enrollment losses over the past few years correlated to higher test results carry the assumption that poorer-performing students (read: children of color and English learners) had been keeping scores low. Yet, publicly available data shows that demographic and language classification breakdowns have largely remained the same between NAEP exams.

I am no stranger to skepticism, as a child who immigrated to this country alone — poor, undocumented, homeless and an English learner — and faced a system that told me I didn’t matter. Sadly, Los Angeles Unified students confront the misgivings of a suspicious society on a daily basis and are often told college isn’t for them, not to strive beyond their socioeconomic class and to stay where they belong. 

Why does society assume the worst and expect the least from urban school districts?  Put bluntly, why do pundits and education experts saddle children with the burden of low expectations and then assume there must be a data anomaly when they exceed those expectations? It’s the evolution of Jim Crow suppression where the world tells Black and brown kids, “you don’t matter.”

As the superintendent of the second-largest district in the United States and former superintendent of one of the highest-performing urban districts in the country, I find it disheartening that the country in 2022 is still mired in outdated, pre-1950s biases that limit children’s potential. I’m tired of this. It’s unfair to the students, families and dedicated teachers who tirelessly work every day to ensure every child has access to the life-changing power of public education. 

Los Angeles Unified children, and those teaching them, deserve better than to be viewed with a side-eye of skepticism.

Our students are the changemakers the future desperately needs. I’m confident we’ll see even more progress in the months and years to come. I trust such success will be welcomed and celebrated rather than questioned and mistrusted.

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