Average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that African-American students trail far behind their white and Asian-American classmates.
But a new analysis of NAEP data, released last week, shows that black children actually improved their reading scores at a greater rate than their white and Asian-American counterparts between the 4th and 8th grades.
“Growth in School Revisited: Achievement Gains from the Fourth to the Eighth Grade,” is available from the Educational Testing Service. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)
As a result, the District of Columbia and some states that rank lowest on comparisons of NAEP reading scores came out on top when the progress of their students was measured from 1994 to 1998.
Richard J. Coley, the director of the Policy Information Center at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., conducted the analysis using a value-added approach. The method, which involved following the progress of a cohort of students over a four-year period, is a departure from most test-score studies, which compare student achievement in the same grade over time.
The value-added analysis adds another dimension to examining changes in average test scores, Mr. Coley said last week. “It gets you a little bit closer to what actually happens in schools,” he said.
|Read the accompanying chart, “A Different Lens for Looking at Test Results.”
An argument can be made that it is more difficult to boost the test-score gains of the nation’s best-prepared students, Mr. Coley said. But, he added: “If lower-scoring states could add that much value, you would think higher-performing states could do so too.”
The report updates the value- added analysis of NAEP test scores conducted by Mr. Coley and Paul E. Barton for the ETS in 1998. (“ETS Study Takes ‘Value Added’ View of NAEP,” June 17, 1998.)
The latest ETS analysis of 4th and 8th grade reading scores between 1994 and 1998 found that African-American students gained 56 scale points, which represents more than four years’ growth. One year of school equals roughly 12 points on the NAEP scale, Mr. Coley said. The NAEP scale score ranges from 0 to 500.
In contrast, white students gained 48 points, or about four years of progress, while Asian-American students gained 42 points, or less than four years’ growth during the same period.
Still, the report’s total results present a mixed picture—especially in mathematics.
African-American and Hispanic students failed to show as much learning growth as their white peers in math between 1996 and 2000. Black students’ average 8th grade math score was only slightly above the average result of 4th grade white and Asian-American pupils.
Although the analysis provides a deeper look into how much progress students have made academically from 4th to 8th grade, the study does not follow exactly the same students, but a sample from the same cohort. The NAEP test measures the performance of a representative sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.
Charles E. Smith, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the administration of NAEP, said a review of the evaluation system now being conducted will lead to a more detailed reporting of test scores in the future.
A former state commissioner of education in Tennessee, Mr. Smith said the new ETS study will allow states to probe their NAEP data more thoroughly, looking “behind the numbers” to evaluate the progress of their curriculum and instruction program.
Focus on Reading
Nationally, most reading intervention has focused on bringing low-performing minority students to the basic level in reading in grades K-3, said Cathy M. Roller, the director of research and policy for the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association.
The value-added study shows that few white students are moving from the “basic” to the “proficient” level, she said, which could indicate that efforts targeting students scoring at the “below basic” level aren’t helping better-performing students.
Adolescent literacy is becoming more of a focus for policymakers, she noted, since students need more instruction to understand complex texts as they progress through school.
Black students’ greater learning growth could be an early indicator of work conducted by states and school districts that disaggregated test-score data by race and ethnicity before the federal No Child Left Behind Act requirement to do so, said Rossi Ray-Taylor, the executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network. Based in Evanston, Ill., the network is a coalition of districts working to improve African-American and Hispanic student achievement.
Ms. Ray-Taylor said although the study shows that the achievement gap persists, it also may point to the benefits of instruction purposefully designed to meet particular students’ needs. “In other words,” she said, “you can’t just assume they get it.”
For districts struggling to meet their state goals to show “adequate yearly progress,” as the federal law requires, the results emerging from the value-added approach could prove heartening.
“It gives you a more accurate picture of what’s going on,” Ms. Ray-Taylor said, “rather than the thumbs up, thumbs down, A-B-C scale that some of the states have adopted.”