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More Bad News on the Reading Achievement Gap in New York City (Plus, Free Cape Inside!)

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On Tuesday I described the math achievement disparities separating black and Hispanic New York City students from their white and Asian counterparts on NAEP. Turning our attention now to reading, you’ll see that the achievement gap has not narrowed in reading either.

However, in 8th grade, the achievement gap is moving in the wrong direction; when we compare the performance of Asian students with their black and Hispanic peers, we see that the gap has grown quickly and quite substantially.

Here are some basic facts about New York City black and Hispanic students’ reading performance:

* In 2007, the average African-American 4th grade student in NYC performed at the 23rd percentile of the white distribution in reading, and at the 26th percentile of the Asian distribution. Put differently, 77 percent of white students performed above the average black reading score, and 74 percent of Asian students did.

* In 2007, the average African-American 8th grade student in NYC performed at the 21st percentile of the white distribution in reading, and at the 20th percentile of the Asian distribution.

* The Hispanic figures are similar. In 2007, the average Hispanic student performed at the 21st percentile of the white distribution in both grades 4 and 8.

Quite astonishing is the sizable growth in the Asian-Hispanic and Asian-black achievement gap in 8th grade reading:

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average black 8th grader in NYC has fallen from the 31st to the 20th percentile of the Asian distribution – a drop of 11 percentile points.

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average Hispanic 8th grader has fallen from the 33rd to the 21st percentile of the Asian distribution – a drop of 12 percentile points.

We’ve still got radio silence from the Truth Squad on the New York state scale scores. Could it be that the New York City Department of Education knows something that we don’t? If you could show that achievement gaps had narrowed on the state test, wouldn’t you throw those scores up on your website immediately?

Hey, Al Sharpton: If you are reading, maybe you could file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for me. To sweeten the deal for you, I’ll throw in a free cape. If you wait until Fashion Week, yellow (or shall we call it chartreuse?) capes will be hard to come by.

I’m not counting on Al to step up, but someone should really FOIL. Reporters of New York City – Unite!
14 Comments

Great posts--I have suggested to my class that these be read as part of their course in Quantitative Analysis.

One piece of info I think would be useful is if the student subpopulations have changed any from 2003 to 2007.

For example, are the NYC Asian students different in 2007 than in 2003? Are there more or less immigrant students? Has the country of origin changed for immigrant students?

Also, within all student subpopulations, I would want to know what the changes were with respect to students in poverty. Have some subpops evidenced an increase in the percentage of students in poverty while others have not?

Not to dispute your findings, but more nuanced disaggregation can be helpful in explaining these trends.

Ed - This is a very good point. I have been trying to sort this out using the Census ACS survey of NYC; I will let you know if I find anything. My initial hunch is to say that the time frame is much too short for sweeping demographic change to fully explain the declines; if there was such a dramatic change in the Asian population over four years, I suspect we would have heard about it in some other context.

Thank you for exposing the dazzling DOE/Bloomberg/Klein PR blitz. Are attempts being made to get the NY Times or other newspapers to investigate their questionable claims?

I'm afraid as long as this nation continues to allow life altering consequences to be attached to standardized test results, this type of shenanigans, gaming, and corruption will continue, as David Berliner and Sharon Nichols laid out in "Collateral Damage".

Overall, any positive role standardized tests might play in the educational process is negated by making them high-stakes tests.

I am curious. There's a robust academic community in New York. Have any of the NYU or Columbia scholars or others examined these test score trends and where can we find their work? If they have not, I wonder why. Are they stymied somehow from criticizing the mayor and chancellor?

keep up the good work.

Ed,

One piece of info I think would be useful is if the student subpopulations have changed any from 2003 to 2007.

While this information might provide some marginal insight into the NYC scenario, these Achievement Gap figures generally hold across the nation, in other words, this isn't a phenomenon localized to NYC.

Tauana,

I'm afraid as long as this nation continues to allow life altering consequences to be attached to standardized test results, this type of shenanigans, gaming, and corruption will continue

I just want to make sure that we're on the same page here - the shenanigans, gaming and corruption only applies to the reporting of the scores, not to the performance of the students. Agreed? If so, then making the case that the misreporting of the scores is having devastating effects upon the students becomes a difficult case to advance in that you have to show that their performance on tests is influenced by media reports on system-wide student performance.

In other words, the reality is what it is and the shenanigans are focused only on misreporting and thus have no effect on the students.

Hi TangoMan,

I'm not sure if we're on the same page or not! I see your point that the actual reporting of scores does not effect student performance on tests. No disagreement there.

However, I would argue that the whole sorry business of high-stakes testing itself does have devastating effects upon students.

However, I would argue that the whole sorry business of high-stakes testing itself does have devastating effects upon students.

Cause and effect. What I'm seeing is that the testing regime shining a glaring spotlight on how poorly some students do. I get the sense that you're modeling the following dynamic - in order to get students to pass these tests teachers are increasingly focusing on teaching to the test and this is harming the education of their charges. Well, that may be true with respect to the material that is not taught and not tested, but I find it hard to believe that reducing the amount of time the teachers spend on teaching Math and English (tested subjects) will yield improved performance on tests.

If all of this teaching to the test, with its concentrated effort on improving performance in Math and English, is yielding such disappointing results then its likely that performance on these subjects were even worse when they received less teacher attention.

Ultimately, shennaningans about reporting scores may (and probably does) affect students. If inflated test scores are used to make an unsuccessful reform look successful, it is students who suffer.

Testing to support accountability only makes sense if the test results are used honestly. Testing may still make sense separate from accountability, as a way of focusing curriculum or assessing individual students. Conversely, many people would argue that using standardized tests as the major accountability measure is fundamentally flawed.

But people (like Joel Klein) who believe in, and advocate for, test-based accountability measures lose credibility when it looks like they are cherry picking the data instead of being open to what it is actually telling them.

If inflated test scores are used to make an unsuccessful reform look successful, it is students who suffer.

I agree, with the proviso that there exists some other fantasy reform which will close the achievement gap but isn't being implemented because of the deception being perpetrated regarding the current reform. Replacing one ineffective standard of practice with scores of other ineffective standards of practice probably does even more harm to students in that they can never get used to a set of standards and practices and the teachers are constantly having to switch gears to implement the "fad of the day."

Testing to support accountability only makes sense if the test results are used honestly. Testing may still make sense separate from accountability, as a way of focusing curriculum or assessing individual students.

If the only purpose of testing is to support accountability then yes, it only makes sense to do it honestly. However, testing as a window of transparency into student performance is very valuable in its own right, so I think you do justice to the position of fairness on the issue by writing your second sentence.

But people (like Joel Klein) who believe in, and advocate for, test-based accountability measures lose credibility when it looks like they are cherry picking the data instead of being open to what it is actually telling them.

The problem with folks like Klein is that they're misdiagnosing the problem so they can never craft a solution that will yield the results that they predict. It's kind of like a person with brain cancer going to a doctor and the doctor treating them for headaches and then after repeated visits the doctor can't figure out why the Tylenol isn't reducing the headache pain.

Testing and accountability can work at improving the educational system by increasing transparency, but these tools will do absolutely nothing to reduce the racial Achievement Gap.

Good points Rachel.

TangoMan, there are many harmful effects of high-stakes testing. Ironically, it is the most vulnerable students who are harmed most of all.

For one, the practice is contributing to higher dropout rates - see the study from Rice University. I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg if the current abuse (overuse and misuse) of these tests continue. I find it galling that the same corporate/politicos imposing high-stakes testing in our schools now decry the dropout rates their policies are contributing to!

And what is their answer? More rigor! More of the same! Algebra for all!

There is nothing more unequal and unfair than holding children of wildly varying abilities, talents, interests, and life circumstances to the same narrow one-size-fits-all standard of "success". High-stakes testing narrows rather than expands opportunities for success. Because the stakes are so high for children, teachers, and schools, there is precious little time to help children find, explore, and develop their own unique interests and gifts while at the same time helping them in areas of weakness.

I'm a special education teacher. Since the inception of NCLB I have had to subject children with IQs in the 50s and 60s, some of whom have suffered extreme abuse and neglect (and whose sense of self-worth is already fragile), to the same grade level, high-stakes tests and test preparation as their regular education peers.

Devastating effects on students? Oh yes.

I find it sickening when Margaret Spellings and Co. use false dichotomies to justify this abuse. If children don't all perform "proficiently" on the tests, no matter what wonderful progress they may have made, they have been "left behind". A common statement used is, "Which of these children would you choose to leave behind?"

OK, I get mad.

And I've veered off from the subject of Eduwonkette's post. I do hope the NYC DOE's self-serving claims of success are investigated and exposed.

"there are many harmful effects of high-stakes testing. Ironically, it is the most vulnerable students who are harmed most of all."

I have recently been ploughing through an Education Working Paper that I downloaded from OECD (School Accountability, Autonomy, Choice and the Equity fo Student Achievement: International Evidence from PISA 2003, Schutz, West and Wormann). They were concerned with examining exactly the premise presented above, using data from international participants in PISA. They found most of the elements of accountability to be "rising tides that lifted all boats," utlizing test scores, survey data on ways in which test scores were used and surveyed indicators of socio-economic status. They found that exit exams in math and science and test results used in making promotion decisions were positively correlated with achievement, at all levels; as were either principal or outside monitoring of teacher lessons. On the other hand, they found that achievement grouping--based on test scores--which is something that we are very comfortable with in this country, was negatively associated with achievement.

Tauna--I am curious about what state you teach in. NCLB does not require students with a 50-60 IQs be tested at grade level (this is why there is the 1.5% allowance for alternative testing for students with cognitive disabilities). Is this a state requirement? What stakes, if any, attach to the test (for the students?) Although we blithely refer to "high stakes" testing, this really is only appropriate when there is a stake attached for the student (promotion or graduation).

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the parent of a minority student with disabilities. The answer to the question regarding which children would be left behind has been abundantly clear to me throughout his education. Has accountability worked wonders? No. Was it better before? Emphatically no.

Larry,
I think your comment is interesting and I would love to see such research as well. However, I do know that NYC DOE has recently made it extremely difficult (if not near impossible) for teachers who are also students at Columbia, NYC, etc to do any sort of research in their own classrooms. They do not condone teachers collecting that type of data on their students. Only the data they sanction and want made public. Perhaps they want to keep teachers in the dark....

Margo/Mom writes:
The answer to the question regarding which children would be left behind has been abundantly clear to me throughout his education. Has accountability worked wonders? No. Was it better before? Emphatically no.

These discussion have made me wonder about something: maybe more thought needs to be given to which students have benefited from which aspects of NCLB.

Being from a part of CA where the most challenging student subgroup is "English Learners", it's easy to start seeing the whole thing as surreal -- take a group that is -- by definition -- not yet proficient in English and expect them to score "proficient" on grade level English Language Arts. It makes you want to ask "what part of 'not yet proficient' don't you understand.

And the result is that many of the NCLB sanctions -- particularly the draconian ones of school re-organization -- seem bizarrely counter-productive because the "failing schools" seem very similar to the non-failing schools in every way except the demographics of their students.

But other schools have other issues -- and maybe a better question than has NCLB worked or not worked, is where has it worked, and where has it not worked? How do to we keep what civil right leaders like about the law, while dispensing with what drives teachers nuts.

And the result is that many of the NCLB sanctions -- particularly the draconian ones of school re-organization -- seem bizarrely counter-productive because the "failing schools" seem very similar to the non-failing schools in every way except the demographics of their students.

It may help to think of NCLB as official Lysenkoism. The reality that you wish to acknowledge is out of bounds with the governing conservative/liberal ideology. Human difference in endowment or preparation are deemed not to exist and the role of the school and the teacher is all powerful and is the agent of all change. This is why the consequences for failure are so severe - if you are responsible for all change and you can't deliver, then logically it follows that you're inadequate at doing your job and someone else will have more success.

Operating on a false understanding of reality is easier for politicians because they don't have to contend with explaining why they're willing to have lower standards for some populations and higher standards for others. It's easier to make teachers the scapegoats while proudly proclaiming that society should expect the same standards for every child, hence, No Child Left Behind.

The only saving grace is that our official Lysenkoism doesn't impose consequences of the same severity as found in Lysenkoism, version 1.

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