Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Racial test gap remains large in California

Keith Rushing:

The racial achievement gap on the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, or STAR exams, remains substantial in Oceanside, as in the rest of California.

While 61 percent of Oceanside's white students tested at grade level in grades two through 11 in English, about 39.5 percent of black students and 36 percent of Latino students performed at grade level in those areas, according to STAR exam results released last week.

The STAR exams, which were given in the spring, test students' knowledge in many subjects in grades two through 11. Educators pay particular attention to English and math scores, though, because doing well in those subjects is considered by many educators to be essential for success in college and highly competitive jobs.

In Oceanside, the racial achievement gaps in math were similarly wide to the gaps that exist in English. In math, about 68.5 percent of white students performed at grade level in grades two through seven. Some 50.5 percent of black students and 43.1 percent of Latino students performed at grade level in math in grades two through seven.

The North County Times reviewed STAR results in math for grades two through seven, because students in higher grades can take a variety of different courses, including geometry, algebra 1 and algebra 2, in any given year.

Black and Latino students here perform at higher levels on the STAR exams than black and Latino students throughout the state. About 27 percent of Latino students were at grade level in English statewide while 36 percent of Latino students in Oceanside were at grade level. About 33 percent of black students performed at grade level in math throughout the state. In Oceanside, about 50.5 percent of black students were at grade level in math.

In a telephone news conference last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called the achievement gap for students statewide "unacceptably" wide. He said the state is "working to address the problem by providing struggling schools extra resources and additional interventions with ... better training for teachers."

All students in California are expected to be proficient or performing at grade level by the 2013-14 school, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which holds schools accountable for academic success.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to demonstrate that groups of students that have historically performed at lower levels -- including blacks, Latinos and English learners -- are achieving annual test score gains. Schools that receive Title 1 federal money for low-income students but fail to show progress mandated by the federal government can be hit with federal sanctions, from forced hiring of new school staff to allowing students to transfer to more successful campuses.

Although the percentage of Oceanside's black students performing at grade level on the STAR exams changed little from the 2004-05 school year to 2005-06, the percentage of white students who performed at grade level in math climbed 7.5 percentage points to 68.5 percent, creating a gap of 18 percentage points with black students and a 25-percentage point gap with Latino students.

Latino students shows significant gains in English, with 36 percent at grade level on the 2005-06 STAR exams, up from 26.7 percent the previous school year.

To narrow the achievement gap, district Director of Assessment Michael Hargrove said schools in Oceanside will focus extra attention on students who aren't at grade level. When administrators find successful strategies that are working at one school, they'll reproduce them at others.

"Administrators and teacher-teams will collaborate and find the best practices that are working in our district and find ways to share the best practices," Hargrove said.

Achievement gap still a concern among educators


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