magnifying glass photo

Look a little bit closer.
Photo by Jen and a camera

Seattle’s recently released student-achievement
results were “very, very alarming,” according to Michael Tolley, one of Seattle
Public Schools’s leaders. He’s right, of course. For example, the city found that black youngsters who do not speak
English in the home (mostly immigrants and refugees) tested higher than those
blacks who do speak English at home
(and are, presumably, U.S.-born)—by as much as 26 percentage points in math
and 18 percentage points in reading. These results invite many questions, but
here’s one tangible takeaway: Our data-reporting subgroups may be cut too crudely.
Since 1990, blacks have ticked thirty-six points higher on NAEP’s fourth-grade
math assessment (compared to whites’ twenty-nine point increase). This slow narrowing
of the achievement gap is present across fourth- and eighth-grade math and
reading. Yet Seattle’s data call into question how these gains are being made.
Are descendants of slaves making the same progress as first-generation African
immigrants? Maybe, maybe not. To better target services to our neediest
children, we’ll need more of these higher resolution data. Kudos to Seattle for
starting the trend. Other districts with large African and Caribbean immigrant
populations, like Montgomery County, Maryland, would be wise to do some similar
unpacking of their numbers and categories.


new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools
,” by Brian M. Rosenthal, Seattle Times, December 18, 2011.

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