The US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released a new report today on “Achievement Gaps, How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Statistical Analysis Report.”
I pulled a couple of graphs from the report to give you a better idea than ever before about what has really been going on since KERA started in Kentucky in the early 1990s. For most of you, this is going to be a disturbing shock.
The first graph shows the Black/White achievement gap for fourth grade National Assessment of Education (NAEP) math in Kentucky actually grew somewhat between 1992 and 2007.
This graph, copied directly from the gap report, also includes a dashed red line that shows the overall average math score for all students across the country of all races. Our White kids barely matched that average even though the national samples have a lot more children of color than we do in our NAEP samples. Children of color score lower on the NAEP, so having a much larger proportion of them in the national sample drags the national average down.
When we do an “apples to apples” comparison, across the nation Whites scored 248 – 10 points higher than Kentucky Whites did on this assessment in 2007. That is a big score difference on the NAEP.
The next graph shows things are even worse for our eighth grade Black students. The gap between their score and the score for Kentucky’s eighth grade Whites grew dramatically between 1990 and 2007. Our Whites scored eight points lower than Whites across the nation on the 2007 eighth grade math assessment, by the way.
That means our relatively low gap compared to other states is misleading – our Whites didn’t set anything like a decent target for our Blacks to shoot for.
The last graph shows how the fourth grade reading gap has trended since the early days of KERA. As with the other examples, the gap grew somewhat over time (eighth grade NAEP reading wasn’t tested at the state level until well after KERA began and therefore isn’t shown).
There is another “zinger” in the federal gap report. We have been told time and again that our NAEP reading scores are around, or even slightly above, the national average. Now, the new facts in the gap report show the national White fourth grade reading score was 230, five points above what our Whites scored.
How can that be? What’s going on?
The answer is to look at the demographic information in Kentucky’s NAEP samples.
For example, the last figure above shows that in 2007 our NAEP sample for fourth grade reading was 84 percent White and 11 percent Black. The remaining part of the sample, just 5 percent, was composed of other racial groups. Not shown here, but if you look at the gap report, you will find that the comparable national fourth grade reading sample was only 56 percent White and 17 percent Black, with other, generally low scoring minority groups like Hispanics, making up the balance of the sample.
Simply put, the national and Kentucky samples averaged across all students are not really comparable. Few outside the Bluegrass Institute have pointed this out in the past.
Anyway, demographics explain why the data we see in this new gap report paint such an alarmingly different picture from what you have been told by others before. Finally, in this new gap report, we are starting to get some apples to apples numbers, and they substantiate what we at the Bluegrass Institute have been saying for some time. When properly considered, the NAEP data shows Kentucky has some very severe education issues that have not been adequately addressed by KERA, and which too often have not been properly presented to the public in proper context.
And, as I pointed out in the earlier blog on this report, even the acting commissioner of education statistics is starting to note that Kentucky’s lower gap numbers don’t indicate better performance.