Test Scores Show Local Achievement Gap Narrowing

NEWARK – While local African American students still lag behind white and Hispanic students in state testing scores, the achievement gap is narrowing steadily, Worcester County school officials said this week.

The decreasing difference between black and white students shows in both reading and math scores on Maryland School Assessment (MSA) tests.

In 2003, reading scores for white students taking the MSA were 34.2 percent higher than the scores of black students.

“That difference in [reading] performance has been reduced to 16.3 percent. The achievement gap remains but is narrowing,” said Wynette Handy, coordinator of multicultural education for Worcester County schools.

According to Handy, African American MSA reading scores have increased every year since 2003.

Black students show similar progress in the math MSA, beginning in 2003 with a 32-percent gap. In 2008 testing, African American students reduced that gap to 20.3 percent.

Hispanic students, who also show an achievement gap compared to white students, have shown progress as well in narrowing the gap with white student scores, in both reading and math.

All three groups of students have met or exceeded the adequate yearly progress level set by the state in both subjects.

Worcester County’s African American high school students also show progress in meeting High School Assessment (HSA) requirements, which all high school students in Maryland must pass to graduate. The latest scores available are from July. Scores are not yet available from HSA tests administered recently.

In Algebra, 82 percent of graduating African American students have passed, compared to 96 percent of white students. In the English exam, 72 percent of graduating African American students have passed, compared to 89 percent of white students, and 45 percent of Hispanic students. There are only 11 Hispanic students in the 2009 class.

Biology scores show that 75 percent of African Americans have passed, and 90 percent of white students, with Hispanics posting 82 percent passing grades on that exam. Government test scores show an 81 percent pass rate for African American students, 93 percent for white, and 67 percent for Hispanic.

Progress has been made, Handy said, through targeting students for help using testing data, smaller class sizes, supporting teachers with teacher strategies, and offering parents tips on helping their children.

The school system will also work on expanding mentoring programs and parental involvement this year, Handy said. Parents of African American students also filled out needs assessments recently. Getting parents and mentors to attend training or input sessions has been slow going, Handy said, but no one has given up. Guidance counselors will be trained to themselves train mentors in their schools.

One task the minority achievement subcommittee is working on is a list of non-negotiable resources for every school, such as a diverse teaching staff.

A program at Buckingham Elementary School brings African American men from the community into the schools to meet with black boys in third and fourth grade and work on an academic or character skill. This year, small groups of African American men, from fathers to police officers, are participating.

“We are closing the gap. The challenge is to close it faster,” said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.

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