Affluent children score higher than poor children on standardized tests, and Asians and whites do better than blacks and Latinos
The No Child Left Behind Act, an education law signed by President Bush in 2002, was supposed to help change that. But as Congress prepares to reconsider the legislation this year, there are few indications that achievement gaps have been shrinking.
In California, middle-class students' performance on state exams continues to exceed poor students' performance at about the same rate as three years ago, according to a report the Policy Analysis for California Education research center released late last year.
The difference persists at all grade levels in elementary and middle school, according to the report.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that across the nation in 2004, white teens outperformed their black and Latino counterparts in math and English at roughly the same rate as they did in 1999.
The No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress will revisit this year, requires schools to report test results for populations within a student body including ethnic groups, poor students, students who aren't fluent in English and students with disabilities.
The law sets a target that rises annually for the percentage of students who must be proficient in math and English. Schools that miss that target for two years for any identified student population must make changes that could include replacing all staff.
Pixie Hayward Schickele, who chairs the California Teachers Association's work group on No Child Left Behind, says the law points out a problem - differences in achievement - without providing solutions.
"I like, on one hand, that somebody is saying, `Look at this, and see this, and how can you address this?"' Hayward Schickele said. "But on the other hand, the punitive piece of this is not particularly helpful because I'm not sure anybody knows how to solve the achievement issue."
In San Bernardino City Unified, San Bernardino County's largest school district, test scores for every group of students have risen since 2002, according to the California Department of Education.
But the achievement gap is not closing.
White students' gains outpaced those of blacks and Latinos, and poor children and children whose parents did not finish high school were still doing worse than their peers. Disabled students and children not fluent in English still had the lowest scores.
At the high school level, where differences in achievement are usually more pronounced, the gap between the percentage of whites and Latinos - and between whites and blacks - who were proficient in math and English remained in double digits at four of the district's five largest high schools.
The only exception was San Bernardino High School, which had the lowest overall test scores among the five.
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