Category Archives: Achievement gap

“Virtually None” of Kansas Black 8th-grade boys read at advanced level

The Schott Foundation for Public Education has good news for Kansas, of sorts, when it comes to educating black children:

Black Male and White Male, non-Latino, students in Kansas in 2007/8 graduated at higher rates than the national averages for each, as they had in 2005/6. The racial gap is narrower in Kansas than the national average.

That’s the good news.

And then there’s some not-so-good news. By the foundation’s reckoning, the graduation rate for black boys in the state is only 60 percent, while for white boys it’s 85 percent.

Academic performance is another area of concern: “Virtually none of the state’s Black Male students read at the Advanced level in Grade 8.”

Kansas on the Nation’s Report Card Summarized

How do Kansas schools stack up against schools across the country? In order to answer that question, we need to use a measurement that is applied across the country.

Kansas scores compared with score for the USA

The following table suggests that Kansas schools are doing better than those in the rest of the country. It shows the percentage of students who score “at or above proficient” on four key tests on the “Nation’s Report Card.” Numbers in parentheses–(4) or (8)–indicated the grade level at which the test was given.

Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
USA 32 30 38 33
Kansas 35 33* 46 40

In three of the four tests, Kansas outperformed the nation.The asterisk (*) in the fourth means that the difference between the USA and Kansas is not statistically different. That is, it could have happened by chance. (Think of it as the “margin of error” that you hear of in public opinion surveys and you’ve got roughly the same idea.)

While having less than half of the students at proficient isn’t great, at least Kansas is above the national average. Or is it?

Breaking it down further

Let’s look closer. The following table offers a summary of the state’s performance by demographic group.

Group of students Do Kansas students test better than those in the country as a whole?
All students Yes–In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math
White students No
Black students No
Hispanic students Yes, in grade 4 math
American Indian students No difference for grade 8 reading; data not available for grade 4 reading or math
Asian/Pacific Islander students No difference for reading or grade 4 math; data not available for grade 8 math
English language learners No
Students with disabilities No
Low-income students Yes-In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math

You can find this information by consulting  National Center for Education Statistics, using NAEP Reading scores and NAEP mathematic scores. Look at whether the percentage of students within each group in Kansas who scored “at or above proficient” is “significantly different from” the percentage for the same group of students in the nation as a whole.

What explains higher state scores?

So where do the “above average” scores in the first table come from? It’s pretty simple. It provides group-specific percentages of students who score at or above proficient.

Race or ethnicity Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
White students 42 41 51 44
Black students 16 14 16 12
Hispanic students 17 17 22 17
Asian/Pacific students 49 45 60 54
American Indian students 20 21 21 18

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2008, 80.3 percent of the Kansas population was “White persons not Hispanic,” while the comparable number for the USA was 65.5 percent. In other words, Kansas is 23 percent whiter than the USA (80.3/65.5). Given that white students score higher on the NAEP than students of other racial or ethnic groups, their preponderant numbers in Kansas guarantee that Kansas will outscore the country on the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We can argue all day long about the quality of Kansas schools, but the state’s performance on a nationally recognized test that is administered to a sample of schools in each state does not prove that Kansas schools are better than those anywhere else.

Demography is not destiny

“Demography is not destiny” is one lesson from a report issued by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute,  which recently looked at schools in Massachusetts.

Here’s part of a press release announcing the report:

A new report released today by Pioneer Institute finds that some school districts are substantially more successful in reducing African-American and Hispanic student achievement gaps than other districts serving students with similar backgrounds. Using U.S. Census data and controlling for family poverty and community education levels, Beyond Demographic Destiny: An Analysis of Massachusetts Minority and White Student Achievement Gaps demonstrates that students’ demographic characteristics are not determinative even within Massachusetts district schools systems.

A year ago, the Patrick Administration established a Board of Elementary and Secondary (BESE) Task Force on proficiency gaps. Pioneer believes there needs to be great urgency on how the administration will address the nearly 100,000 poor and minority students who are not acquiring the academic knowledge they need to succeed in the world.

Beyond Demographic Destiny — authored by Dr. Richard Cross, Theodor Rebarber and Dr. Kathleen Madigan of AccountabilityWorks in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Bruce Bean of Community Partners Initiative in Lawrence, Massachusetts — is the second in a two-part series on student proficiency gaps in the Commonwealth. It follows Pioneer’s “micro” level report last fall entitled Closing Springfield’s Achievement Gap: Innovative Ways to Use MCAS Data to Drive School Reform.

“With school accountability all but suspended and not one in-district school actually ‘turned around’ over the past few years, we’ve missed a real sense of urgency in closing proficiency gaps,” said James Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute. “Diagnosing which districts are and are not closing the gaps will, we hope, enabled the Task Force to finally move forward.”

Beyond Demographic Destiny focuses on and analyzes the achievement gaps for African-American, Hispanic and White students in selected Massachusetts school districts, examining the gaps in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics achievement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) between each student group and state White students. It highlights clear differences in how school districts do in addressing academic achievement gaps between poor, minority, and white students; and the unacceptably large achievement gaps persist among historically under-achieving minority groups.

Funding Gap Continues

The group Education Trust reports some old yet important news: the gap between students who need help the most and what they get is still there (PDF). This echoes work previously published (PDF) by the Buckeye Institute, which analyzed the situation in Ohio. One reason for the gap: the seniority system of most school systems.

Charter Schools: Examples of Success

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools offers links to two new reports on examples of charter school success. From their newsletter:
Starting Fresh in Low-Performing Schools
This issue brief compiles highlights from a five-volume series called Starting Fresh in Low-Performing Schools published by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). The document explains how education leaders are empowering schools to start fresh and gives an overview of the major components of a successful start fresh strategy. Starting fresh occurs when a district enters into a contract or charter with a provider that has authority over all critical aspects of a school’s policies and practices. The document profiles Seth McKeel Middle School, a once chronic poor performer in Polk County, Florida. The district converted it to a choice school and then to a charter school and it’s now one of the district’s highest rated middle-high schools.
Source: National Association of Charter School Authorizers

K-8 Charters: Closing the Achievement Gap
This new U.S. Department of Education publication highlights seven K-8 public charters achieving success at closing the achievement gap. As a group, they have created learning environments where historically underserved children are thriving. Schools featured in the guide are located in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Texas.
Source: United States Department of Education

Watching the Gap

Several articles lately have looked at achievement gaps. From the Wichita Eagle (“Black churches hope to help students bridge achievement gap,” June 7):

“For example, about 47 percent of black sixth-graders scored below standard on the 2005-2006 reading test, compared with 33 percent of sixth-graders across the Wichita school district. About 61 percent of black 10th-graders scored below standard in math, compared with about 49 percent of 10th-graders across the district, according to the state Department of Education.”

Members of the Wichita Alliance of Black School Educators want to hold more discussions about what to do. There’s one encouraging sign: some schools are making a difference:

“We have a number of cultural issues that are very serious and very grave that demand our attention,” said Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita branch NAACP, who has two children in public schools. “In the interim, there are schools around the country who have figured out how to make it work.”

It’s not unusual, when the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy makes a comment about the need for improving the performance of schools, for someone to say “Yes but what about the parents who don’t care.” Never mind that in other circumstances this might be classified under “blaming the victim.” As Myles points out, the record of schools–even those with similar demographic characteristics–is not uniform.

To close the gap, we need innovation. That’s currently inhibited by the bureaucracy and red tape in the status quo. One way to cut through that is to make greater use of charter schools, private scholarship funds, and yes, even vouchers or tax credits for attendance at private schools. It’s the “light a fire under their feet” strategy.

The article also mentions tutoring programs conducted by local churches. Good for them. So why not make more formal uses of such programs?

Meanwhile, the Pew Hispanic Center came out with a report on a group of students called, in the education industry, “English Language Learners.”

“The results of national testing conducted in 2005 shows that nearly half (46%) of 4th grade students in the English language learner (ELL) category scored “below basic” in mathematics in 2005–the lowest level possible. Nearly three quarters (73%) scored below basic in reading. In middle school achievement in mathematics was lower still, with more than two-thirds (71%) of 8th grade ELL students scoring below basic. Meanwhile, the same share (71%) of 8th grade ELL students scored below basic in reading.”

Both the Hutchinson News (“Schools face stubborn gap in achievement,” June 7) and the Parsons Sun (“Kansas schools face an achievement gap,” June 7)  provide a Kansas angle. From the Sun:

Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, agreed that school districts are expected to test students who don’t adequately know the test’s language. Resulting low test scores are then held against those districts.

This is curious but standard language: held against those districts. The focus is not on students, but on the district. Not on the person we seek to educate, but on the institution we currently rely on for achieving that goal.

The achievement gap has been there for a long time. No Child Left Behind highlights that gap, by calling for structural changes (tutoring, some limited school choice, and in time, greater school choice). Discussions of the law focus on the implications for institutions, as if requiring these changes of them is in and of itself a bad thing. But if that’s what it takes to, say, provide a student the tutoring that leads to success, institutional disruption is hardly a major concern.

Here’s some more Kansas-specific information from the Sun:

In Kansas, data from the state Department of Education showed English language learners improved their test scores along with other Kansas students from 2000 to 2005.

Still, the gap remains significant between groups. State assessments showed just 5 percent of the white population scored at the lowest levels in third-grade reading results last year. In contrast, about 22 percent of English language learners were at the lowest level. That percentage grows larger in the upper grades.

Kansas’ Hispanic student population has been the only enrollment growth for many school districts in recent years.

Three of the state’s largest districts, Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, now report a majority of their students are minorities, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards. That’s mainly because of a rapid increase in Hispanic enrollment, primarily Mexican immigrants.

Ten more districts, including Emporia and most in southwest Kansas, also are now majority minority.