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Fresno Unified Says No Thanks to Big City Schools Assessment



Fresno Unified headquarters (GV Wire file photo)
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Fresno Unified won’t have to worry about being lumped together this year with other low-performing big city school districts like Detroit and Milwaukee.

The district opted out of participating in the Trial Urban District Assessment, a district-level assessment in the Nation’s Report Card, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The testing evaluates fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math.

Results from NAEP, including the big city assessments, and from state testing assessment data released Monday by the California Department of Education have provided further evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures were costly to student achievement.

However, even though California’s NAEP reading and math scores dropped from 2019 to 2022, the decline was less steep than the national average, the Education Department reported.

The department noted that Los Angeles Unified was the only TUDA participant to show significant gains in eighth-grade reading scores.

Los Angeles was one of the six original districts that in 2002 joined the TUDA study, which was funded by Congress to provide a district-level assessment using NAEP data. Districts were selected to participate based on size, percentages of African American and Hispanic students, and percentages of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals.

FUSD Only District to Opt Out

Fresno Unified, which joined the TUDA assessments in 2009, was the only district among the current 26 listed not to participate in 2022.

FUSD spokeswoman Diana Diaz said COVID-related staff shortages and “the continued challenge of student attendance” caused officials to decide to withdraw from this year’s comparison.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID pandemic and other emotional strains on students and families, we decided all voluntary assessments would be curtailed for 2022,” Diaz said in an email to GV Wire.

A small sample of Fresno Unified schools did participate in the state of California NAEP sample, she said.

The district’s decision “was in no way a reflection of the TUDA program or NAEP assessment staff,” Diaz said.

Other Testing Already Showed Achievement Drops

Portrait of Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas

Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas

Board President Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said the district wouldn’t have learned anything from the TUDA assessment that it didn’t already know from its internal iReady testing and the state’s Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments.

“Unless there’s something I’m missing, it’s not going to give us anything additional,” she said.

The district had previously reported its SBAC testing results: 32% percent of the students tested met or exceeded standards in English language arts, and 21% met or exceeded standards in math. A total of 35,620 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 participated in the SBAC testing last year.

By comparison, in the 2018-19 school year — the last year in which grades 3 to 8 and 11 in Fresno Unified were all tested — 38% met or exceeded standards in English, and nearly 30% met or exceeded standards in math. Students were not tested in the spring of 2020 because schools were closed due to the pandemic, and only 11th graders were tested last year.

Less Testing, More Learning

Even though Fresno Unified hasn’t made any decision over whether to rejoin the TUDA study in 2024, Jonasson Rosas said she wants the district to focus more on the assessment tests that are mandatory and to try to spare students from the ones that are optional.

FUSD Trustee Valerie Davis

She said she has spoken to parents who are concerned that the district is “testing to death” and that testing is taking away from teaching time.

Jonasson Rosas said she’s not worried about an interruption in Fresno Unified’s participation in the TUDA longitudinal study. “A pre-COVID and post-COVID comparison, I don’t know if it’s of any help,” she said.

Trustee Valerie Davis, who was on the School Board when Fresno Unified joined the TUDA study in 2009, said the benefit to the district was in showing growth in student proficiency over time.

But as to comparisons among big city school districts, Davis said she saw no value in them because districts don’t have identical characteristics, such as student demographics, teacher-student ratios, or whether employees are unionized.

Fresno Unified is transparent about reporting student performance, whether it’s individually to parents or on the new Superintendent’s Dashboard that the board will review at tonight’s meeting, she said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email