Shelby County Schools is gaining a valuable new tool to help the district measure its student performance against school systems in other large cities.

The district will join 26 other big-city systems participating in national reading and math tests under the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as NAEP.

The tests will be administered beginning in 2017 to a sampling of Memphis fourth- and eighth-grade students in select schools representative of the district’s demographics.

The governing board for NAEP, which administers “the nation’s report card” every two years, voted last weekend to include Shelby County Schools in its new Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA.

Just as NAEP’s national tests provide a critical measure of each state’s academic performance, TUDA provides a significant measuring stick for urban districts, which generally have a higher concentration of black, Hispanic and low-income students than the nation as a whole.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson welcomed the inclusion of Shelby County Schools, which volunteered to be part of the program.

“It creates a learning opportunity,” Hopson said Tuesday. “The more objective data we have, it helps us to develop strategies.”

The program began in 2002 with just five cities to further mine data through NAEP.

“C​ities wanted to be able to compare themselves across state lines with other big­-city school districts that shared many of the same issues and challenges,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, which suggested the idea.

“We wanted to be able to tell whether or not the reforms we were pursuing were producing results,” Casserly added.

NAEP issues the nation’s report card every two years, and Tennessee’s sizeable gains in 2013 served as the basis for its claim as the “fastest-improving state in the nation” in K-12 education. In 2015 results, Tennessee generally held its ground while most other states declined.

Students in urban school districts tend to score lower than the national average on NAEP reading and math tests. But data from the past 12 years shows that big-city school districts are narrowing that gap.

“We know without a doubt Shelby County Schools is driving those scores,” Hopson said of Tennessee’s NAEP gains, adding that the TUDA results should help to establish that.

Districts eligible to participate in TUDA must be in a city of at least 250,000 people and with a student population that is at least half non-white or eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Memphis has a population of 657,000, while students in Shelby County Schools are more than 92 percent non-white and almost 76 percent economically disadvantaged.

Here’s the list of urban school districts (including new additions marked *) participating in NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment:

*Shelby County Schools

*Clark County School District (including Las Vegas)

*Denver Public Schools

*Fort Worth Independent School District

*Guilford County Schools (including Greensboro, N.C.)

*Milwaukee Public Schools

Albuquerque Public Schools

Atlanta Public Schools

Austin Independent School District

Baltimore City Public Schools

Boston Public Schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Chicago Public Schools

Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Dallas Independent School District

Detroit Public Schools

District of Columbia Public Schools

Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, Florida)

Fresno Unified School District (California)

Hillsborough County Public Schools (Florida)

Houston Independent School District

Jefferson County Public Schools (Kentucky)

Los Angeles Unified School District

Miami-Dade County Public Schools

New York City Public Schools

School District of Philadelphia

San Diego Unified School District

 

Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Melanie Asmar contributed to this report.