Gap continues in schools on black-white achievement

Board hears new report of 20-, 30-point difference

January 09, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Two years after concerned parents and community activists declared "a state of crisis" in the growing achievement gap among students of different races, Carroll County's African-American students' test scores continue to lag far behind their white classmates on many state and national assessments.

A new report presented last night to the Carroll school board shows that black students score about 20 to 30 points below white students on almost every test school officials use to measure achievement.

"It's something we know and are working to address as we identify students who may be at risk," Gregory Bricca, the school system's accountability and assessment supervisor, told board members.

But to Phyllis Hammond Black, who helped organize the call to action at a school board meeting in December 2000, school officials have not been held nearly accountable enough and have made little progress in improving a problem they acknowledged then.

"Two years ago, we heard the same thing," Black said in an interview after the meeting. "We know this. What measures are they going to take to bring minority students - and particularly African-American students - up to par with their white counterparts? What are they going to do? Just tell me. That's all I want to know."

Although more minority students enrolled in Carroll County public schools in recent years, the 28,000-student school system remains 95 percent white.

About 2.6 percent - or 730 students - are African American. Asian and Hispanic students each make up about 1.1 percent of the system's population, accounting for about 620 students combined. And 0.2 percent - or fewer than 60 children in the county's 40 schools - are identified as American Indian.

Asked by school board member C. Scott Stone whether those populations are so small as to render the gap in some test results statistically insignificant, Bricca said he would "use caution" in drawing conclusions from the data. But he said even small numbers of students found not performing as well warrant extra help.

Black, former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said those small populations could work to the school system's advantage. Providing extra help to 5 percent of the county's public school students is not nearly as daunting as addressing the achievement gap in surrounding counties where classrooms are filled with far more students of color, she said.

"In the Carroll County school system, we have far better resources than some other school systems in the state of Maryland," Black added. "So it's inexcusable that we are in the same situation with virtually no action being taken."

On the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, a national standardized exam that tests reading and math skills among second-, fourth- and sixth-graders, white pupils outperformed African-American children last year by 20 points to 30 points in nearly every category. Only in sixth-grade reading did the gap narrow - to about 12 points.

On the now-defunct Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, the annual exams given in six subjects to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders for the past decade, the gap between white and black students had closed by only a few points over 10 years at every grade level.

"You see a slight closing," Bricca said, displaying a graph of test results for third-graders from 1993 to 2001, "but you'd have to project that out another 20 years to [completely] close it, and certainly that's unacceptable."

On last year's High School Assessments, the first round of Maryland's new testing program, African-American students scored 13 points to 29 points lower than their white classmates - results that Bricca characterized as "pretty much what we would have expected knowing the gap that does exist."

Only on the SAT, national standardized tests taken by college-bound high school seniors, has measurable progress been made. Whereas white high-schoolers scored 200 points higher than blacks in 1997, the disparity dropped to about 110 points last year.

School board member Thomas G. Hiltz asked that administrators add a summary page to future reports on minority achievement and list steps they plan to take to address those findings. Black applauded both requests.

"Then when we see this report again next year, we'll have some type of trail," Hiltz said.

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