No Child Left Behind fails minority students


No Child Left Behind? Apparently no one told Minnesota’s African-American students. As has happened many times before, test results show an unacceptable achievement gap between whites and African-Americans in Minnesota schools.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a federally mandated test that every two years measures reading and math skills in the nation’s fourth and eighth grades. Scores across the country improved this year and some have credited NCLB’s mandatory performance tests as the catalyst.

Opinion: No Child Left Behind fails minority students

The NAEP scores released this week, however, show little progress in crimping the difference in test scores between Minnesota’s minority and white students:

* Fourth-grade math: In the 15 years between 1992 and 2007, the 38-point average gap between whites and African-Americans narrowed by only 7 points on a scale of 500. Also, 38 percent of African-Americans failed to reach basic math proficiency, compared with 8 percent for whites.

* Fourth-grade reading: The gap between white and African-American test scores held steady since 1992 with African-Americans consistently 33 points behind whites. The failure rate in achieving basic proficiency was 21 percent for whites, 57 percent for African-Americans, 54 percent for Hispanics.

* Eighth-grade math: Although African-Americans narrowed the gap in test scores from 1990 to 2007, they remained 37 points behind whites. Basic proficiency eluded 14 percent of whites, 52 percent of African-Americans and 44 percent of Hispanics.

* Eighth-grade reading: The average gap between whites and African-Americans dropped 10 points since 1998, but African-Americans remained 38 points behind. Scoring below basic proficiency were 15 percent of whites, 43 percent of African-Americans and 44 percent of Hispanics.

Nationally, scores rose for all ethnic groups. However, between 1990 and 2007, the gap between African-Americans and whites closed a mere six points. Whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders consistently scored an average of 30 points better than American Indians, Hispanics and African-Americans over that 17-year period.

Other measures show the educational gap between whites and African-Americans is not improving.

ACT tests, taken by students applying for college admission, show no diminution of the racial gap: In 2003, the average score for whites was 22.3, for African-Americans 17. In 2007, the numbers were 22.9 for whites, 17.4 for African-Americans.

An Education Week survey found that 83 percent of Minnesota’s white students graduated from high school in 2003, compared with just 44 percent of African-Americans. The national average for African-American students that year was 52 percent.

This problem is not new. Many studies and tests have produced similar results, including Minnesota’s NCLB test, the MCA-II.

“There is no silver bullet,” said Jennifer Godinez, associate director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. “Systemic racism, lack of motivation to do well in school, lack of resources at home, a youth culture that doesn’t embrace education, lack of financial aid, less rigorous coursework — they all play a part.”

Knowing what’s wrong can help turn the situation around. Schools such as the Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a new charter school in south Minneapolis, try to improve minority performance by stepping up educational rigor. The same philosophy is used by the Minnesota College Access Network in its efforts to enroll more minority students in college.

School districts are tackling the problem. St. Paul Public Schools will soon announce a five-year plan to shrink the achievement gap.

An Education Minnesota task force is looking into the issue, too. It agrees that higher expectations are necessary, as are adult support for students, teachers who know how to work with minorities, smaller class sizes, summer school, before and after-school programs and early childhood intervention.

These are great ideas — if the state invests in them. Until then, minority students probably will continue to perform behind white students.

No Child Left Behind was created, in part, to force schools to improve minority performance on standardized tests. This has not happened.

No Child Left Behind? No, too many of our children are being left behind.