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In New York City, A Long Wait Ahead to Close the Math Achievement Gap

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Today I will lay out the math achievement disparities separating black and Hispanic New York City students from their white and Asian counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Needless to say, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein forgot to mention these inconvenient facts when they testified before Congress last week:

* In 2007, the average African-American 8th grade student in NYC performed at the 20th percentile of the white distribution in math, and at the 15th percentile of the Asian distribution. Put differently, 80 percent of white students performed above the average African-American math score, and 85 percent of Asian students did.

* In 2007, the average Hispanic 8th grade student in NYC performed at the 24th percentile of the white distribution in math, and at the 17th percentile of the Asian distribution. In other words, 76 percent of white students performed above the average Hispanic math score, and 83 percent of Asian students did.

The size of those gaps is almost identical for 4th grade students.

If there is trouble in Gotham, it can be summarized in a few lines: best case scenario, the black-white achievement gap in 8th grade math achievement won't close for 21 years, and the Hispanic-white achievement gap won't close for 36 years. But here's the catch: these projections only hold if white students make no progress. And indeed, they have made no progress in 8th grade math in the last four years: The average scale score for white students was the same in 2003 as it was in 2007 (289 points). If white students also improve, these gaps will take even longer to close if New York City continues at the current pace.

What's more, the gaps separating black and Hispanic students from their Asian peers appear to be growing, at least in the 8th grade. Though only the growth in the Asian-Hispanic achievement gap is statistically significant, the growth in this gap from 2003 to 2007 is suggestive of a troubling trend:

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average black 8th grader in NYC has fallen from the 19th to the 15th percentile of the Asian distribution. (Note that this change falls short of statistical significance, however.)

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average Hispanic 8th grader has fallen from the 24th to the 17th percentile of the Asian distribution.

Of late, Joel Klein has taken to invoking Martin Luther King, a habit that I find quite infuriating given the sizable and persistent achievement gaps in New York City - notwithstanding his PR campaign clucking about his successes on this front. I don't think Dr. King would have looked kindly on such subterfuge. So I leave you with this quote from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which provides a lens through which to view these gaps and New Yorkers growing impatience with the Department of Education's unwillingness to acknowledge that gaps have not closed under their watch:

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!"....This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." ....There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Tomorrow: The Reading Achievement Gap in New York City.
8 Comments

Wow - what a strong post! While I like to think I see such growth in my students and in my school setting, I wonder if it is all relative. If perhaps I can't see outside of my little bubble in the educational world. What disturbing and troubling information...is Bloomberg going to run for some big public office soon or what? Why all the posturing and back patting?

Here's a wonderful treatment of various scenarios where decreasing the "achievement gap" isn't necessarily a good thing...

http://www.ednews.org/articles/8864/1/Is-quotClosing-the-Gapquot-Necessarily-a-Worthy-Goal/Page1.html

You've done a good job of describing the reality on the ground. I would think that the next step is for education professionals to craft a solution that works.

This achievement gap has been rock steady for generations as various solutions, operating under false premises, have been repeatedly deployed and all have failed, thus leaving us no further ahead than we were decades ago.

The basic education curriculum can be mastered by most students. I hypothesize than it's not the complexity that is the stumbling block here but time on task. Treating every student as though they can absorb and comprehend information at identical, or near identical, rates yields many students who find themselves moving onto new topics without achieving comprehension on existing topics.

We see with the KIPP schools, that requiring an additional 2 hours per day of instruction time, Saturday classes, and an additional month of schooling in the summer yields students who master the curriculum. Some may conjecture that this is the result of teacher approach/philosophy but it's undeniable that the students benefit greatly from having 50% more instruction time than is the norm.

The vexing philosophical issue is that the solution yields unequal treatment, mostly, but not entirely, by race. Should we treat all students equally but fail to adequately educate the struggling, thus upholding a belief that all students are equal, or should we require struggling students, of all races, to attend schools run on the slower pace and thus satisfy our obligation to educate all children and thus acknowledge that all students are not equal?

I think for all the policy level talk about closing the achievement gap, the political challenges to actually doing it are significant -- even if we could identify more effective approaches for schools to take.

Everyone likes the rising tide that lifts all boats -- but that doesn't close the gap. And when a study comes out suggesting that low achievement students have gained more than high achievers in recent years -- which is necessary to close the achievement gap -- the interpretation is that high achieving students are stagnating.

If the approaches that raise achievement for low achievers are the same ones that raise achievement for high achievers (e.g., excellent teachers or small classes) it's going to take a massive amount of political will to focus those techniques and resources primarily on struggling students, particularly since the families of high achieving students are more likely to be able to opt out of the public school system if they believe that the public schools aren't interested in their kids.

So I'm not surprised that its a hard problem -- I'm more surprised that politicians expect easy answers and startling progress.

Here is a good example of why this happens:

Allegations of grade inflation prompt audit
Thursday, Jul 17, 2008

By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - State auditors will look into allegations teachers in a college studies program for high school students were pressured into giving students higher grades than they deserved.

The state Department of Higher Education has asked the Division of Legislative Audit to conduct an audit of the Arkansas Early College High School Program offered by the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative in Monticello.

Students at 40 high schools across the state participate in the program, which uses distance learning to let students get a head start on their college education by taking college courses while still in high school. Twenty-four colleges and universities in the state are partners in the program.

In a June 12 e-mail to legislative auditor Roger Norman, state Higher Education Director Jim Purcell requested an audit of the program in response to complaints he said the department received in April.

Purcell wrote the state Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education investigated the complaints and found that "credibility issues were corroborated through multiple sources."

Current and former employees of the program told investigators that students in the early college program received higher grades than they deserved; teachers were pressured by management to change students' grades; and teachers were harassed and/or fired for refusing to lower standards or change grades.

In the e-mail, Purcell quoted the comments of several current and former employees to investigators, including:

-"If the grades weren't high enough we were to redo tests, or whatever it took to make sure those grades were high enough."

-"Plenty of pressure to give good grades. If you did not do so, you would not be renewed."

-"The grades I submitted ... were not high enough, so I was required to do grade changes on the students."

-"This is nothing but a scam. I am very disheartened by what I saw ... I was asked to give students grades they did not deserve. ... All they wanted was numbers."

Deputy Higher Education Director Steve Floyd said Wednesday he could not comment on the department's audit request.

Auditors will make an on-site visit to the cooperative next week, legislative auditor Tim Thompson said Wednesday.

Bruce Terry, who was director of the cooperative in April when the complaints were made about the early college program, was suspended with pay by a vote of the cooperative's board on June 20.

Paul Keith, the board's attorney, said Wednesday he could not comment on personnel decisions of the board. Board president Keith Alexander did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Laura Creach, the former coordinator of the Arkansas Early College High School Program, resigned in April and filed a grievance against Terry alleging sexual harassment.

The board hired a consulting firm, HR Factor of Fayetteville, to investigate Creach's allegation. In a report dated June 18, the firm concluded that "the facts do not support a sexual harassment claim."

Creach told the Arkansas News Bureau the investigation was "a joke." She said a hearing on her grievance is scheduled for July 28, and that if she does not prevail she expects to file a lawsuit.

Creach also said she once witnessed Terry directing a teacher to change the grades of students who had been caught cheating. The teacher had given the students grades of zero, she said.

"He (Terry) felt like that if students had low grades, they would be afraid to sign up for classes next year and it would hurt the overall program," Creach said.

Terry's attorney, Charles Sidney Gibson, said Terry denies Creach's allegations of harassment.

"He denies those wholeheartedly," Gibson said. "Didn't happen."

Gibson said he was not aware that Creach had claimed Terry pressured teachers to inflate students' grades. An invitation to Terry to respond was extended through his attorney, but Terry did not immediately respond Wednesday.

Gibson said Terry has 30 days from the date of his suspension to request a hearing, but as of Wednesday he had not done so.


I think we know more about the effects of poverty on student achievement than you are acknowledging I find frustrating to defend in light of the weight of the social science evidence on this topic.
_______________________
asher smith
[url=" http://www.treatmentcenters.org/arkansas"rel="dofollow"]Arkansas Treatment Centers[/url]

The Bruce Terry issue at SEARK COOP is mere allegations at this point. One audit has already proved the house is in order and I would bet the next audit proves the same. The news spin on that issue is hardly open minded.

I don't know where you got your information because the first part was an investigation and the only results are those referenced by Jim Purcell. The main coop audit found several early college financial problems including contract issues.

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