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Cleveland Test Scores Show Greater 'Racial Parity'

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Cleveland--Reading scores of black and white students in the public schools here improved appreciably in 1983 and, for the first time, black students made measurable progress toward "parity" with whites, as measured by the proportion of students of each race who met a minimum score on standardized reading tests.

The spring 1983 test results, compiled by the Cleveland City School District and further analyzed by the U.S. District Court's Office on School Monitoring and Community Relations, show that at almost every grade level, fewer students of both races scored in the "below-average" range on the nationally normed Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, and more students of both races scored in the "above average" range than in the past three years.

Overall, the proportion of black students scoring at or above the 34th percentile increased from 55.7 percent in 1981 to 62.7 percent in 1983. During the same period, the proportion of white students at or above the 34th percentile increased from 67.7 percent to 72.5 percent, according to the analyses.

"In 11 out of 12 grades, the white students scored above norm expectation," according to a report prepared by the district. "However, the performance of black students improved more than did the performance of white students. There were four grades where more than 66 percent of black students scored above the 34th [percentile rank] and only one grade in which fewer than 50 percent were [above the 34th percentile], in contrast to three and six respectively in 1981-82. While this is not acceptable, it is better than the 1981-82 results when fewer than 50 percent of black students were above criterion in all secondary grades."

Furthermore, disparities between black and white students were reduced in 10 of the 12 grades. "Racial parity," according to the definition used by the district and the U.S. District Court presiding over school desegregation, is the point at which identical proportions of black and white students attain a minimum score on a standardized test. The minimum score selected was the 34th percentile, because that is the district's cutoff score for placing students in remedial-reading classes; the test used was the nationally normed Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

In general, the students' best showing was in the first three grades, where achievement was highest and racial disparities were almost nonexistent; the poorest scores were for high-school students. The district's report noted that children in the primary grades have been in desegregated settings since they started school.

"Obviously, one year does not make a trend, but it does break the old one," said Leonard B. Stevens, director of the monitoring office. ''For at least a decade in Cleveland, the reading scores that have been released annually by the district have been a source of frustration and depression for a good many people, parents included. ... The 1983 scores are both different and very positive."

"It's not particularly unusual in a desegregation case to find, shortly after desegregation takes place, the reading test scores of black youngsters rising," Mr. Stevens noted. "It is quite unusual, however, to find the reading scores of white students rising, because black kids typically start out behind white kids and have more room to make gains."

Although the district's research division has not pinpointed the causes of the improvement, both the school system's curriculum division and the monitoring office have speculated that one major factor has been the emphasis on reading ordered as part of the district's desegregation plan. Desegregation began in 1978-79 and was completed in the 1980-81 school year, although certain organizational and instructional components of the order are still being put into effect.

In 1978, U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti, who is presiding over the desegregation case, ordered that the district adopt an "affirmative reading program" aimed at correcting the effects of years of racial segregation.

As a result, schools have increased the amount of instructional time devoted to reading and, in the secondary grades, have adopted a new curriculum. Also, for the first time, all reading programs have been consolidated under the supervision of one central-office division, with closer attention to continuity between grade levels, and principals and their faculties have been encouraged to develop their own school-level strategies for improving students' reading achievement.

"My hunch is that apart from what the THINK program [the new secondary reading program] may or may not have accomplished, what may have happened may be nothing more complicated than having the district pay closer attention to the teaching of reading," Mr. Stevens said.

The monitoring office has recommended that the district further investigate the factors that contributed to the improvement.

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