Test Score Gap Remains for Students of Color

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

Tougher exams mean lower test scores.  New York released this year’s test scores of public school students which showed sharp declines in proficiency.  The reason for the drop in scores is the first use of significantly harder exams this year, which reflect usage of the Common Core Standards Initiative, a national effort to codify what students should know and be able to perform at each level of schooling. 

There is still a vast gap in test scores between Latino and black students and white and Asian students.  Only 19 percent of Latino students and 15 percent of black students passed the math exam this year, compared to 50 percent of white students and 61 percent of Asian students.

The achievement gap between New York City’s students of different incomes remains far too great.  Too many students from low-income families, who are largely black and Latino, still lag behind in schools without the resources to help them succeed.  Despite the debates about testing and teachers, the greatest predictor of students’ performance remains their household income. 

More needs to be done to ensure that poor communities have the resources to help their children succeed.  The city needs to expand access for young black and Latino students in the gifted and talented program, the elite public high schools, and the top four-year CUNY colleges. 

The new exams require students to demonstrate greater analytical skills, writing essays and solving complicated math problems.  In effect, they emphasize reasoning as opposed to the old rote method of learning.

Last year, with easier exams, 47 percent of city students in third through eighth grade passed the English test and 60 percent passed the math test.  This year, with the more rigorous standards of Common Core, those numbers fell to 26 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

The drop in scores across the state was similar to New York City’s scores.  Last year, 55 percent of students statewide passed the English test and 65 percent the math.  This year, the scores dropped to 31 percent for both exams.

There have been some clear improvements in the city’s public schools system.  One of the most noticeable areas of improvement has been in expanding career and technical education (CTE) programs in public high schools.  CTE schools are not only offering more students real skills with which to gain employment, but an understanding of career pathways to decent jobs.

Programs serving older youth at risk of dropping out – known as multiple pathways to graduation – have been expanded.   With more than 180,000 disconnected youth in New York City – not in school or working - who are between 16 and 24 years of age, it is imperative that we increase our efforts to help young people obtain their high school diploma and learn a skill that will create a foundation for economic security and mobility.

Educators have long believed that earlier testing was inconsistent and inadequate, leaving students unprepared for college and jobs.  Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said that Common Core standards would better prepare students for the skills necessary for higher education and the nation’s evolving labor market.

Discussion and debate about the Common Core is surely important, and teaching to the test has been a source of constant criticism since the No Child Left Behind law instituted regular testing across the country tied to federal funding.  But let’s not allow Common Core to overshadow the advances we have made, as well as those toward which we must continue working.

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