Tests Prove Achievement Gap Narrowing

NEWARK – The achievement gap between African-American students and others in Worcester County schools is getting smaller, but is not yet eliminated, test scores show.

“The achievement gap remains. However, it is narrowing,” said Wynette Handy, Worcester County schools coordinator of multicultural education and staff development at the February Worcester County Board of Education meeting.

In 2004, 51.5 percent of Worcester County’s African-American students tested proficient or better on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) reading test, versus 81.7 percent of white students.

In 2009, African-American students were 76.8 proficient or better in reading on the MSA, compared to 94.4 percent for white students.

In that five-year span, minority students increased their percentage in reading proficiency by 25.3 percentage points.

Math numbers show a similar rise. African-American students scored 41 percent proficient in math in the 2004 MSA, compared to white students, 71.5 of whom tested proficient that year. In 2009, the percent of African American students testing proficient or better in MSA math reached 76.8 percent, compared to 94.6 percent for white students.

African-American students in Worcester County’s three high schools also score lower than white students on the Maryland High School Assessment (HSA), with 30 African-American students in the 2010 graduating class who still need to meet the HSA requirements.

“Our ultimate goal is to narrow that gap until eventually it’s eliminated,” said Handy.

The Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee has made outreach to parents and the community a priority this year. Handy reported that the committee visited 15 local churches to speak to parents and congregations about helping African-American students with their academic needs and how to get involved in the schools. The committee handed out brochures on helping students be more successful in school, Handy said.

The committee also held a half-day parent involvement symposium, covering topics from helping students with reading and math to Internet safety.

“They weren’t just learning about academics but learning about things they face on an everyday basis,” Handy said.

Handy said she was impressed at the number of men who attended the symposium, including two men who attended by themselves.

“We’re always looking for male participation in activities we do throughout the county,” Handy said.

The committee also worked on expanding the mentoring program, including a training guide for new mentors.

Handy took her initiative into the schools as well, holding diversity workshops for county teachers.

Ed Lee, chair of the Worcester County branch of the NAACP, asked the school board to keep minority students in mind during the upcoming budget year, when money will be tight.

“I see us going backwards,” Lee warned.

Lee said that the “least among us” are not considered in the fiscal year 2011 schools budget as it stands.

“We definitely are sensitive to those same concerns,” Board of Education President Bob Hulburd said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes said the school system would not stop diligently working and dedicating resources to the achievement gap.

“We still have a gap and we will not be satisfied until the gap is eliminated,” said Andes.

“We know we still have challenges,” Handy added.