mind the gap

New York City’s racial achievement gaps widen as students get older, report finds

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

The achievement gaps between racial groups in New York City appear as soon as students begin taking state tests and get worse over time, according to a new analysis of state test-score data.

Black and Hispanic students score below their white and Asian peers beginning in third grade, then fall further behind as they move into middle school, according to a report released Tuesday by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The analysis follows roughly 71,000 individual students who entered third grade in 2008, tracking their state standardized test scores through seventh grade (in math) and eighth grade (in reading). The study, which includes students in traditional and charter schools, controls for factors such as students’ disability status, poverty level, and the schools they attended — suggesting that racial gaps cut across different schools and student groups.

While this study can’t say whether the city is getting better over time at closing these gaps, it does show that — at least among one cohort of students — the disparities worsened as students got older.

“A stated goal of a lot of education reform over the last 15 years” has been an effort to narrow the performance gaps between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers, said Ray Domanico, the IBO’s director of education research. “It’s sobering that these gaps grow over time and the school system doesn’t seem to be making a dent.”

Here are the six takeaways from the report:

1. Black and Hispanic students started off far behind.

Roughly a third of black and Hispanic students in that 2008-09 cohort landed in the bottom quartile on the reading tests — meaning they earned lower scores than 75 percent or more of test-takers. By contrast, just 13 percent of white and Asian students fell in that lowest tier.

The gaps were similar in math, with Asians doing a little better than whites and Hispanics narrowly outperforming blacks.

2. As they got older, black students lost ground.

Over time, black students in that cohort fell further behind.

By eighth grade, 33 percent scored in the lowest quartile in reading — a 4 percentage point increase from third grade. In math, 35 percent were low-performing, a 3-point increase.

Meanwhile, the share of white and Asian students in the bottom rungs of reading and math grew smaller.

3. Hispanic students made slight gains in reading, but not math.

By the end of middle school, the percentage of Hispanic students in the bottom quartile in reading had shrunk by 3 points — narrowing from 33 to 30 percent. In math, it stayed the same: 30 percent.

That slight improvement in reading helped narrow their gap a tiny bit with their white peers, but not with Asians.

4. By eighth grade, Asian students led the pack in reading and math.

If black and Hispanic students were over-represented in the bottom rungs of achievement — Asians dominated the top.

In third grade, nearly half of Asian students scored above the 75th percentile — a larger share than any other racial group. In reading, they landed slightly behind white students.

By eighth grade, Asian students had widened their lead in math, with 59 percent making it into the top quartile — a 10-point leap from third grade. And in reading, 49 percent reached the top rung.

In both subjects, they made up a larger percentage of top scorers than all other racial groups, including whites.

5. Black boys came out on bottom.

In both reading and math, black boys represented a far greater share of low-performing students than boys in any other racial category.

By the end of middle school, 41 percent of black boys scored in the bottom quartile in reading, and 38 percent were low-performing in math. White boys, by contrast, had just 14 percent in the bottom rung in reading, and 10 percent in math.

6. Among all races, girls out-shined boys in math.

Starting in third grade, female students outperformed their male peers in math: 29 percent of girls across all racial groups scored in the top quartile, compared to 26 of boys.

By eighth grade, the girls’ lead had shrunk to 1 percentage point — but they still bested the boys.

In response to the report, education department officials said they are committed to reducing achievement gaps through a series of initiatives. Those include additional computer-science courses, algebra classes for all middle-school students, and expanded free preschool. They also noted that black and Hispanic high-school students have seen improvements in graduation and dropout rates relative to their peers.

“The purpose of our Equity and Excellence for All agenda,” said education department spokesman Will Mantell, “is to close the achievement gap and ensure a high-quality education for all students.”

School deserts

New study shows just how hard it is to find a decent public school in Detroit — especially in 10 city neighborhoods

An alarming new study shows just how difficult it is to find a quality school in the city of Detroit — especially for families that live in certain neighborhoods.

The study from the nonprofit research organization IFF identified ten city neighborhoods where it’s extremely difficult to find a seat in a quality school.

Those neighborhoods are home to 30,000 children, but had just eight “performing” schools. The study defined them using the color-coded school ratings that state education officials assigned for the 2015-16 school year based primarily on test scores.  

That doesn’t mean Detroit doesn’t have enough schools. In fact, the study found that many of the city’s schools are half empty. The main Detroit district had physical space for more than  80,000 students in the 2015-16 school year but served fewer than 45,000 kids that year.

Some Detroit families travel long distances — at great personal sacrifice — to find better schools but even families with the means to travel can have difficulty finding a spot in a decent school.

The study found that the vast majority of Detroit children — 70,000 of the 85,000 Detroit children who attend public school in the city — are in schools that don’t meet the state’s criteria for performance.

“This report is not about criticizing our public schools without offering a path forward,” said Chris Uhl, IFF’s executive director in a press release. The purpose, he said, “is to give everyone with a stake in improving Detroit’s education system — the district, charter schools and their authorizers, the city, foundations, and, of course, our families — the neighborhood-by-neighborhood data they need to work together to find shared solutions.”

The study includes an online tool that allows Detroiters to see which neighborhoods have performing schools as well as the conditions of those schools, and the basic demographics of the students who attend them.

Click here to use that tool — and scroll down to read the full report below.

vote of confidence

Despite emerging grading scandal, Hopson gets longer contract — and a raise

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson speaks at a back-to-school press conference for Shelby County Schools for the 2017-18 school year.

Amid a widening investigation stemming from allegations of grade-fixing at one Memphis high school, the school board made it clear Wednesday that it wants Dorsey Hopson at the helm.

The board voted to keep Hopson as superintendent until at least 2020, and to increase his annual pay from $269,000 to $285,000. That puts Hopson on par with Shawn Joseph, director of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Tennessee’s second largest district behind Shelby County Schools.

The 8-0 vote came with one abstention from Chris Caldwell, who was chairman of the board in June when members voted to extend Hopson’s contract. (A technicality required the board to revisit the matter this week.)

“I cannot support the motion, either the dollar amount or the length,” Caldwell said. “We are in the middle of investigating a grading scandal…. This is far from over. So I think it’s premature to extend a contract to 2020. I think one year is all that I’m willing to agree to.”

But other board members said Hopson deserves more time because his performance has brought the district far more good than bad. His contract also requires a raise, they said, to correspond with hikes in teacher salaries the last two years.

“I know it’s not perfect. We’ve got a lot of balls in the air. It’s tough,” said board member Billy Orgel, adding that Hopson is doing “great work.”

The board’s vote of confidence came only hours after the superintendent spoke about the widening investigation into the high rate of grade changing at seven high schools including Trezevant High, where investigators found evidence of falsified grades and two employees have been fired.

Asked how much responsibility he bears as the district’s leader, Hopson told reporters that the buck stops with him.

“At the end of the day, as a superintendent, I’m really responsible and accountable for everything,” he said. “From my standpoint, I’ve tried my best to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent way. I think, if you look at my record, that’s what I’ve demonstrated. Having said that, when you’re in charge of an organization and something happens in an organization, you can’t shirk responsibility. Moving forward, what I’m even more responsible for is cleaning it up.”

Hopson has been in contact with the State Department of Education since September of 2016 when Trezevant’s new principal reported finding inconsistencies between report cards and transcripts. He ordered an internal review and, after the principal submitted a fiery resignation letter in June alleging a district cover-up, launched an external review by several investigators and a North Carolina accounting firm.

A technicality forced the board to revisit Hopson’s contract this week. In June, the body approved a contract that amounted to a six-year term — two years longer than allowed under a state rule, according to Herman Morris, the school board’s attorney.