DPS Shares First Results of Academic Performance on “The Nation’s Report Card”

Apr. 9, 2018

Students in Denver Public Schools are generally performing on par with their peers in urban districts and large cities across the nation in the critical skills of reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, also known as “the nation’s report card.”

NAEP results released today show, for the first time, how DPS students compare with their classmates in 26 other large urban districts in reading and math skills in grades 4 and 8. DPS volunteered to join the group of urban districts participating in the national exam in 2017. Districts that contain both a city and surrounding suburbs generally outperformed those that did not on NAEP.

“We wanted to participate in this assessment because it provides critical information to help us improve,” said Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “Today’s results provide a baseline from which we will grow and highlight other districts from which we can learn to better serve our kids.”

DPS students typically performed in the middle of the 27 urban districts assessed on the Trial Urban District Assessment or TUDA portion of NAEP, with a stronger showing in reading than in math. For example, in fourth-grade reading, seven districts performed significantly higher than DPS while another seven districts performed similarly to DPS and 12 districts performed significantly lower.

On a relative basis, compared to the four other districts nationally that took both the TUDA and the PARCC (the English language arts and math portion of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success), Denver students performed higher on the PARCC exam than they did on the NAEP. Where Denver students in most cases performed significantly higher than students in the other four national districts on PARCC, they were generally only a little bit higher on the NAEP or, in some cases, in the middle of the pack.

A bright spot in the results is that they show Denver’s English language learners performed significantly higher in reading than their peers in most other urban districts and the national average. DPS has focused on improving instruction for students learning English as well as ensuring consistent participation in English language development classes.

However, the results also show wide gaps among DPS students by race and income, higher than most other districts in the assessment. DPS black students performed on par with black students in all other groups (large city, Colorado and nation). Among TUDA districts, DPS’ black-white gaps were similar to those in most other districts. DPS Hispanic students performed significantly lower than all other groups in three of the four areas tested. The exception is eighth-grade math, where DPS Hispanic students are on par with those in other large cities but significantly underperforming Colorado/nation.

“The results underscore the urgency we must have in closing opportunity gaps for all our kids, including students of color and those living in poverty,” Boasberg said.

Closing opportunity gaps is one of DPS’ top five goals in the district’s strategic plan, the Denver Plan 2020. DPS has several key areas of focus to meet the goal, including:

  • Increased supports for high-needs students. DPS’ needs-based student funding formula provides significant additional resources to schools serving higher numbers of students in poverty and English language learners, allowing those schools to offer greater supports and lower class sizes. In addition, these resources allow us to offer summer programs for our students with the most academic need.
  • Focus on the whole child. Funding from the 2016 mill levy is targeted to support the emotional, mental and social needs of our students, a key factor in their academic growth.
  • Improved training and supports for educators. A top instructional priority is supporting teachers in providing the personalized and differentiated instruction to meet the needs of our students in a culturally responsive way, including intensive training in serving our English language learners. The district also provides financial incentives for educators to come to and stay in our highest-poverty schools.
  • Full-day preschool and kindergarten and early literacy. The district offers, thanks to the Denver Preschool Program and mill-levy funding, free full-day preschool and kindergarten to all low-income families. These early learning opportunities, combined with our focus on early literacy in elementary school, provide a critical early foundation for students.
  • Outreach to families and community. Efforts such as one of the nation’s largest parent-teacher home visit program and our Centers for Family Opportunity in Far Northeast and Southwest Denver are providing direct supports to better link families and schools.

NAEP, first administered in 1969, is the country’s largest continuing measure of trends in academic achievement for K-12 students. In addition to urban districts, it measures performance among students in cities with 250,000 residents or more, in individual states and across the nation.

To learn more about NAEP results, including those for DPS, visit Please note that NAEP results are not comparable to other state or district assessments. In addition, DPS has only one year of NAEP results so trend and growth data are not yet available. View the 2017 Results: NAEP for Educational Progress (.pdf).

Frequently Asked Questions about the National Assessment of Educational Progress

First administered in 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP is also known as “the nation’s report card” because it is the largest ongoing assessment of what K-12 students know and can do in key academic areas.

NAEP provides information about student performance across the nation, for individual states, for large cities of 250,000 residents or more and for urban districts where at least half of the students live in poverty and/or are students are color.

Some students in Denver have long participated in the NAEP and their scores were counted as part of Colorado state results as well as national results. In 2002, NAEP began its Trial Urban District Assessment or TUDA initiative to determine the feasibility of reporting district-level results. To participate in TUDA, a district must be part of a large city with a population of 250,000 or more in addition to have at least 50 of students who are African-American or Latino or are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, an indicator of poverty.

Participation in TUDA is voluntary. DPS volunteered to join 26 other large urban districts in the 2017 assessment of grades 4 and 8 reading and math.

No. By design, NAEP does not provide individual student or school results. Because NAEP is a large-group assessment, each student takes only a small part of the overall assessment. In most schools, only a small portion of the total grade enrollment is selected to take the assessment, and these students may not represent the total school population. Only when the student scores are aggregated at the state or national level are the data considered reliable and valid estimates of what students know and can do in the content area; consequently, school- or student-level results are never reported.

Most state tests measure student performance on the state’s own curriculum standards, that is, on what policymakers and citizens consider important for students to know and be able to do. State tests allow comparisons of results over time within the state, and, in most cases, give individual student scores so that parents can know how their child is performing. NAEP is the only assessment that allows comparison of results from one state with another, or with results for the rest of the nation.

To learn more about NAEP, including the opportunity to review sample questions, see historic trends and get the most recent results, please visit For specific questions about DPS results, please email