Reading, Math Scores Trail Whites', But Show Progress
January 5, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Black and Hispanic fourth-graders in Connecticut made bigger gains in reading and mathematics over the past 13 years than their white classmates did on a national test, according to a study released Wednesday.
Although they still generally trailed white children by large margins, blacks and Hispanics made encouraging gains in closing the performance gap in Connecticut and several other states, especially in fourth-grade mathematics, according to a study by the newspaper Education Week.
That was a key finding in the newspaper's annual "Quality Counts" report, which also graded the states on several indicators related to educational performance - giving Connecticut an A-minus, for example, on efforts to improve teacher quality but only a C on financial equality among school districts.
The wide-ranging report also noted some discouraging findings for Connecticut, including a decline in performance in eighth-grade reading scores between 1998 and 2005 and a slight widening of the achievement gap in both reading and math between white and black eighth-graders.
Nationwide, the gap in math performance narrowed significantly between black and white students in both grades 4 and 8 and between Hispanic and white students in grade 4.
Despite the improvement, Connecticut still had some of the largest gaps in the nation, according to the newspaper's long-term analysis of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card.
On a scale of 500, the reading score for the state's Hispanic fourth-graders rose 15.9 points between 1992 and 2005, compared with a rise of 4.6 points for white fourth-graders and 5.7 points for black fourth-graders. Nevertheless, the gaps remained large, with white children scoring an average of 234 points, Hispanics 203, and blacks 201.
The achievement gap for minority and low-income children has been a stubborn problem for many years across the nation.
"I was really heartened to see ... [that] in Grade 4 reading, the change for Hispanics was phenomenally good" in Connecticut, said Frances Rabinowitz, the state's associate commissioner of education.
Educators welcome any narrowing of the gap, but the news in Connecticut is tempered by an overall downturn in reading scores for the state's fourth-graders on both the national test and the state's Mastery Test in 2005.
The state's fourth-graders once topped the nation in reading scores, but last year fell behind children in Massachusetts.
Studies such as the latest Education Week report highlight areas that need work, Rabinowitz said. "When I first came here, I don't think we were paying as much attention [to the reports] because Connecticut was No. 1 out there," she said.
The analysis found a link between strong statewide academic and accountability standards and better test scores, particularly in mathematics. Surprisingly, however, it did not find a link between better scores and efforts to improve teacher quality. Education Week researchers said that does not mean that teacher quality is not important but suggests that policies on teacher credentials and quality need further evaluation.
As for narrowing the achievement gap, schools have had limited success so far despite efforts such as Connecticut's reading and preschool programs directed at low-performing school districts. Closing the gap is also the goal of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, the most extensive federal school reform effort in at least 30 years.
Connecticut is home to some of the nation's wealthiest and poorest schoolchildren. Many black and Hispanic children are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods in cities such as Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, and experts believe that is a significant factor contributing to the achievement gaps.
Connecticut was one of seven states and the District of Columbia where there was a significant narrowing of the reading achievement gap for at least one group of fourth-graders - Hispanic children in Connecticut's case - between 1992 and 2005, the Education Week study found.
In fourth-grade math, Connecticut and New Jersey were the only states where black, Hispanic and low-income children all made significant progress in narrowing the gap with white students during the same 13-year period, the study said.
In other findings, the report gave mixed grades to Connecticut:
B-minus for standards and accountability, based on an analysis of factors such as testing programs and student promotion and graduation requirements. The state lost points because of a lack of clear and specific standards in English and a low rating for social studies standards in elementary and high schools, the report said.
A-minus for efforts to improve teacher quality, including licensing requirements, performance reviews and professional training programs.
B-minus for school climate, a measure of factors such as parent involvement, school safety, class size and school facilities. Connecticut got good marks for having class sizes lower than the national average but received only a mediocre rating on its charter school law.
C for financial equality among school districts, based on various measures, including the extent to which school revenues are based on local property wealth.
The state received an overall grade of B-minus.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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