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NAEP report: Test score gap is wide in PA

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 14, 2009 06:11 PM
Photo: U.S. Department of Education

The cover of the Nation's Report Card, NAEP, report.

There's sobering data in the report released yesterday by the National Center on Education Statistics on the racial "achievement gap."

The study uses results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, given periodically to a sampling of students in each state since 1992. Pennsylvania has one of the largest gaps between White and African American students in fourth grade reading scores, a 33-point gap that has not narrowed much since 1992.

Black students in Pennsylvania score below the national average for Blacks, while Whites scores above the national average for Whites. A pretty glaring reality -- White students in Pennsylvania score about the same as those in Virginia, but Black students here score 13 points below Black students in the heart of the Old Confederacy.

This reflects national data showing that some of the biggest gaps exist in northern states, not in the old Jim Crow South, a trend pointed out in this article in the New York Times

The picture looks somewhat better for Pennsylvania in eighth grade reading. But in math, the problem is reversed. For fourth grade, the White-Black gap has been reduced by 10 points since 1992, but no progress has been made in closing a yawning gap -- 36 points -- in eighth grade math.

With 45 percent of the state's African American students living in Philadelphia, the wide racial gaps being described by the Pennsylvania data are very much reflective of the problems in the city's school system.

Coming a day after the end of the 40-year-old Philadelphia school desegregation case, a settlement premised on the assumption that Supt. Arlene Ackerman's Imagine 2014 strategic plan will close this gap, these numbers give reason for pause.

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Comments (2)

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 15, 2009 11:00 am

It's great to see this issue getting some coverage--not just being explicit about the racial achievement gap, but about the geographic gap.

In talking with some friends, someone brought up the concern that maybe the gap is narrowing in part because White students doing less well. This article shows that isn't the case. Both Black and White students beat national averages in Maryland and Virginia.

I wonder if like Philly pulling down the Pennsylvania averages, if Virginia is benefiting from NOVA pulling up its state averages. I don't think there is enough population density in NOVA to outweigh the rest of the state though. Is this data broken down at anything smaller than the state level?

Also, from the NY Times article:

Warren T. Smith Sr., vice president of the Washington State Board of Education, expressed skepticism about regional variations in the achievement gap.

"I’ve been an African-American male for 60 years, and lived in nine different states, North, South, East and West,” Mr. Smith said. “Certain things are consistent: inequitable distribution of teachers, inequitable funding of schools, institutional racism. That is consistent across the board, so if you expect to find a different gap in North or South, you’re not going to find that.”

In my limited experience, the elementary school I went to in Virginia had a mix of races of students. In all of the schools I went to in PA the schools themselves were heavily segregated. Our suburban township had very little diversity, but in the city proper the schools had completely a different student body.

If we accept that diversity inside the classroom matters and has a positive impact, then how can it not make a difference if students are going to diverse schools or segregated schools? Sure, a school with poor teachers, poor funding, and insitutional racism is gonna be in trouble no matter what the diversity of the student body, but it seems a bit much to write off diversity entirely.

Submitted by Anonymous on July 15, 2009 4:19 pm

While the test data is important - there is one aspect of an economically and ethnically diverse school setting that can not be measured by a test. Learning about each others' culture, world view, etc. and ways to work together are invaluable. In the long run, it should change attitudes which challenge institutional racism. In Philly, diverse schools are primarily magnet schools and some charter schools.

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