Standardized Math Tests Show State's Economic, Ethnic Disparities Persist
October 15, 2009
Despite recent efforts to address the intractable achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers, Connecticut continues to have the widest disparity in the country, according to the results of a national standardized math test released Wednesday.
The state also is at or near the bottom in terms of the gap between white students and black and Hispanic students, according to the Nation's Report Card, a report on the test results.
The National Assessment of Education Progress test is the only standardized test administered nationwide and often is used as a gauge of how states are performing. The results released Wednesday were for the math portion of the test, administered in 2009. The reading results will be released later in the year. A writing test is voluntary and given less frequently.
Congress requires the test to be given every two years to a sample of students in every state.
Math results for Connecticut eighth-graders improved slightly from 2007, while results for fourth-graders essentially were unchanged. As a whole, both grades continued to perform well above the national average.
While poor, black and Hispanic students in Connecticut perform at about the same level as their counterparts in other states, the gap within the state was unchanged from 2007.
State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said that the results of other standardized tests administered by the state indicate some improvement in the disparity, but that additional steps are needed.
"The gap has not closed sufficiently for anyone to say we're on the right track," Murphy said. "We need to do more. We understand that."
Details of the scores of Connecticut students reveal that:
•18 percent of economically disadvantaged students in Connecticut scored at the proficient level, compared with 58 percent of other students in the state.
•There is a 31-point gap in the scores between white and black students and a 26-point gap between white and Hispanic students. The gaps are unchanged since 1996.
•46 percent of all students scored at the proficient level, compared with 38 percent nationally.
•Students in four states — Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont — scored significantly better than Connecticut students.
•Students in 15 states essentially matched the Connecticut results and 30 states scored lower.
Alex Johnston, chief executive officer of the advocacy group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said the state needs to devote more resources to narrowing the gap.
"It takes a lot of sustained effort to move an entire state," Johnston said.
Beginning in 2007, Murphy said, the state identified its 15 neediest districts — including Hartford, New Britain, East Hartford and Middletown — and hired a firm to do a complete educational audit of each system. The information is now being used to reshape the districts, from curriculum to professional development.
The state education department also has assigned teams to help each targeted district.
Both tactics are long-term measures to address a myriad of problems that have their roots in poverty, Murphy said. Officials hope the steps will net better results in the 2011 tests.
"It's not open-field running," Murphy said. "These are very intractable issues."
The state also is seeking a federal Race to the Top grant, part of the multibillion-dollar federal stimulus package. Murphy said if the state wins one of the competitive grants it could provide $500,000 to each school in the 15 targeted districts.
Johnston said the money is desperately needed to augment state resources.
"The fact the we're not making progress does not bode well for the future of the state," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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