All-white schools and achievement gap accountability
In Ohio’s NCLB waiver, the state proposes a new accountability measure—the gap closure indicator—which would hold schools accountable for narrowing achievement gaps. Referring to the well-known disparity in Black/Hispanic and White/Asian test scores, the gap closure indicator would measure how well students from different racial groups perform on its standardized tests. In a data simulation of how Ohio schools would fare under this new accountability measure, the Ohio Department of Education found that 890, or one-quarter of schools, would receive a 100 percent rating.
In a blog earlier this month, we wondered aloud about whether these extremely high ratings (100 percent) for so many schools accurately reflect how well these schools narrow racial achievement gaps. We posed the question: Could some of these schools have an all- or mostly-White student population—with simply no achievement gap to close in the first place? It’s conceivable that, without multiple racial subgroups, all-White schools could receive a 100 percent rating with little or no effort, so long as its White students perform well.
To answer this question, we dig deeper into the racial composition of these 100-percent-rated schools. Using a random number generator, we randomly sampled 89 of the 890 Ohio schools that received a 100 percent rating for gap closure. When we examined these schools’ racial composition, here’s what we found:
Figure 1: Average racial composition of 100 percent-rated gap closure schools
(Source: Ohio Department of Education simulated data and authors' calculations)
The chart shows that, on average, these schools were nearly nine-tenths White and Asian, the two racial subgroups of little interest for racial gap closure. Further analysis shows that nearly two-thirds of these schools, 56 out of 89, had a White and Asian population of greater than 90 percent. We may be measuring a problem—racial achievement gaps—that simply dosen't exist in these schools.
We found too that not all of the schools rated 100 percent were all- or mostly-White. Boulevard Elementary, for example, located in the Cleveland Heights district near Cleveland achieved a 100 percent gap closure rating, while serving a racially diverse population: 15 percent Asian, 41 percent Black, and 37 percent White students. Similarly, a Cleveland charter school, Constellation Schools’ Westside Community School of the Arts, also received a 100 percent rating. Westside serves a population comprised of 16 percent Black, 35 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Multiracial, and 37 percent White students.
Schools like Boulevard Elementary and Westside Community School are probably the true stars in closing racial achievement gaps; they produce results across multiple racial subgroups, rather than for a single racial subgroup.
The logical conclusion is two-fold: should all- or mostly-White schools be held accountable for narrowing racial achievement gaps? (No – there’s no gap to measure.) And how can schools that are truly great at serving multiple racial groups be identified and rightly rewarded? (Could Ohio consider a weighted system that accounts for the greater effort of schools with more racial diversity?)
Reducing racial achievement gaps is an important educational objective. However, we also hope that the Ohio won’t award phantom accountability points to schools without achievement gaps to close, while also appropriately rewarding schools that truly close achievement gaps.