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.”

Trending up

Most schools in Tennessee’s largest district show growth on state test

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy's high school prepare to take their TNReady geometry test.

Most schools in Shelby County Schools showed progress in all subjects except science, but students still outshined their peers across the state in science, earning them the state’s highest rating in growth.

About half of schools in the Memphis district saw a bump in English scores, also earning the district the highest rating of growth under the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson attributed the gains to a renewed focus in preschool education in recent years, adding a reading curriculum more aligned with state standards, and doubling down on literacy training for teachers and students.

“When you think about the investments that we’ve been able to make in schools over the last two years, I think the data is showing that we’re seeing a good return on our investment,” he told reporters Thursday.

But the scores don’t come without tension. Hopson recently teamed up with Shawn Joseph, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, to declare “no confidence” in the state’s test delivery system, which has been plagued with online problems since it began in 2016. Still, Hopson said educators are utilizing the data available to adjust strategies.

“It’s an imperfect measure, but it’s the measure we have right now,” he said. Hopson worries the failures of the state’s online testing system used by high schoolers made “some teachers and students lose focus.”

“There’s impact on those kids that we may never know about,” he said.

Find your school and compare here

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students performed on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. An asterisk signifies that a school’s score falls in one of those two categories.

District-wide results released in July show that more young students are reading on grade-level, and that math scores went up across the board. But the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points. Shelby County Schools still lags significantly behind the state average.

Shelby County Schools also improved its overall growth score, which measures how students performed compared to peers across the state who scored similarly to them the year before. It increased from 1 to 2 on a scale of 5. More than half of schools scored 3 or above, meaning those students scored on par or more than their peers.

The district’s nearly 200 schools include about 50 charter schools that are managed by nonprofit organizations but receive public funding. The rest are run by the district.

Below are charts showing the five schools that performed best and worst in the district in each subject, as well as those that grew or declined the most in each subject.

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students were on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. The charts below only include schools that fall in between that range.

English Language Arts

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Math

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Science

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Graphic by Samuel Park

Social Studies

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

colorado accountability

Test results can spell relief or gloom for state’s lowest performing schools and districts

File photo of sixth-grade students at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

All three school Colorado districts under the gun to improve their academics showed some gains on test results released Thursday — but the numbers may not be enough to save one, Adams 14, from facing increased state intervention.

Of the three districts, only the Commerce City-based Adams 14 faces a fall deadline to bump up its state ratings. If the district doesn’t move up on the five-step scale, the state could close schools, merge Adams 14 with a higher-performing neighbor, or order other shake-ups.

The school district of Westminster and the Aguilar school district, also on state-ordered improvement plans, have until 2019 to boost their state ratings.

The ratings, expected in a few weeks, are compiled largely from the scores released Thursday which are based on spring tests.

District officials in Adams 14 celebrated gains at some individual schools, but as a district, achievement remained mostly dismal.

“We continue to see a positive trend in both English language arts and math, but we still have work to do,” said Jamie Ball, manager of accountability and assessment for Adams 14.

The district’s high school, Adams City High School, which has its own state order to improve its ratings by this fall, posted some declines in student achievement.

District officials said they are digging into their data in anticipation of another hearing before the State Board of Education soon.

In a turn likely to invite higher scrutiny, district schools that have been working with an outside firm, Beyond Textbooks, showed larger declines in student progress.

In part, Ball said that was because Beyond Textbooks wasn’t fully up and running until last school year’s second semester. Still, the district renewed its contract with the Arizona-based firm and expanded it to include more schools.

“Its a learning curve,” said Superintendent Javier Abrego. “People have to get comfortable and familiar with it.”

For state ratings of districts and high schools, about 40 percent will be based on the district’s growth scores — that’s a state measurement of how much students improved year-over-year, when compared with students with a similar test history. A score of 50 is generally considered an average year’s growth. Schools and districts with many struggling students must post high growth scores for them to get students to grade level.

In the case of Adams 14, although growth scores rose in both math and English, the district failed to reach the average of 50.

Credit: Sam Park
PARCC, district on state plans
Credit: Sam Park

Westminster district officials, meanwhile, said that while they often criticize the state’s accountability system, this year they were excited to look at their test data and look forward to seeing their coming ratings.

The district has long committed to a model called competency-based education, despite modest gains in achievement. The model does away with grade levels. Students progress through classes based on when they can prove they learned the content, rather than moving up each year. District officials have often said the state’s method of testing students doesn’t recognize the district’s leaning model.

“It’s clear to us 2017-18 was a successful year,” said Superintendent Pam Swanson. “This is the third year we have had upward progress. We believe competency-based education is working.”

The district posted gains in most tests and categories — although the scores show the extent of its challenge. Fewer than one in five — 19.6 percent of its third graders — met or exceeded expectations in literacy exams, up from 15.9 percent last year.

Students in Westminster also made strong improvements in literacy as the district posted a growth score of 55, surpassing the state average.

Westminster officials also highlighted gains for particular groups of students. Gaps in growth among students are narrowing.

Schools still on state ordered plans for improvement, and deadline for improvement

  • Bessemer Elementary, Pueblo, 2018
  • Heroes Middle, Pueblo, 2018
  • Risley International Academy, Pueblo, 2018
  • HOPE Online Elementary, Douglas 2019
  • HOPE Online Middle, Douglas, 2019
  • Prairie heights Middle, Greeley, 2019
  • Manaugh Elementary, Montezuma, 2019
  • Martinez Elementary, Greeley, 2019

Look up school results here.

One significant gap that narrowed in Westminster was between students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty, and those who don’t. In the math tests given to elementary and middle school students, the difference in growth scores between the two groups narrowed to three points from 10 points the year before, with scores hovering around 50.

Results in individual schools that are on state plans for improvement were more mixed. Three schools in Pueblo, for instance, all saw decreases in literacy growth, but increases in math. One middle school in Greeley, Prairie Heights Middle School, had significant gains in literacy growth.

The Aurora school district managed to get off the state’s watchlist last year, but one of its high schools is already on a state plan for improvement. Aurora Central High School has until 2019 to earn a higher state rating or face further state interventions.

Aurora Central High’s math gains on the SAT test exceeded last year’s, but improvement on the SAT’s literacy slowed. The school’s growth scores in both subjects still remain well below 50.

Look up high school test results here.