Lots of coverage of the latest NAEP scores and what it means for efforts to close the achievement gap. Results show efforts to close the gap “may have a limited shelf life for kids,” notes USA Today’s Greg Toppo.
“Since the early 1990s, schools have helped minority elementary schoolers close the achievement gap in basic math and reading skills, with real progress showing up recently on a federally administered test given to thousands of kids around the time they’re in fourth grade. But by the time they get to middle school, it seems, their progress all but vanishes.”
“Some of the scores are higher than ever, some show no gains over time,” observes Diane Ravitch, a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees and sets policy for NAEP. “A closer look reveals that the rate of progress is no greater than–and in some cases, less than–the pre-NCLB years.
In the New York Times, Sam Dillon fixates on evolving regional differences. “The nation’s most dramatic black-white gaps are no longer seen in Southern states like Alabama or Mississippi,” he notes, “but rather in Northern and Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Connecticut and Illinois.
Why does the achievement gap persist? “African-American students are less likely than their white counterparts to be taught by teachers who know their subject matter,” Ed Trust’s Kati Haycock tells the Associated Press. “They are less likely to be exposed to a rich and challenging curriculum,” she said. Meanwhile Richard Whitmire, citing Haycock, points out that states that focus on early literacy skills are making more progress.
In a non-NAEP post over at Flypaper, Mike Petrilli tosses off an interesting and provocative comment on what we mean — or what we should mean — when we say “achievement gap.” Mike’s eyebrows went up when he heard DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee say that if present trends continue “within six years we will have completely eliminated the achievement gap between black and white students in the District.” Says Petrilli:
Now that’s quite a statement. To the man on the street, it surely sounds miraculous. You mean black students in the District of Columbia, most of whom live in abject poverty in places like Anacostia, are going to be learning at the same level as the handful of white students in the system, most of whom come from affluent, well-educated families clustered on Capitol Hill and the upscale neighborhood of Chevy Chase, where houses start in the $750,000 range? Wow! Except that’s not what she means at all. She’s referring to the proficiency gap—and by boosting the percentage of black students getting to “proficiency,” she is automatically closing said gap because almost all of the white students are already over that bar. But that doesn’t mean that the average black student will be achieving at the same level as the average white student, which is what “eliminating the achievement gap” sounds like.
Talk of closing the achievement gap is “sloppy and misleading,” Petrilli notes. “Let’s stop talking about the achievement gap entirely, and instead focus on raising achievement across the board,” he concludes. ”It’s more honest, and, in my view, more equitable, too.”