Achievement gaps in Maryland shrink

With the Maryland School Assessments nearly an after thought in some school districts, it seems a good time to look back on the trends of the past decade to see what progress Maryland has made in closing the achievement gap. 

Closing that gap is, after all, what No Child Left Behind was all about. The state released a breakdown of scores by race and economic background that shows that everyone, no matter what color, had the same declines and increases. Each group's results mirrored those of the whole state, but the gaps still remain large. 

The state will point out that despite these large gaps enormous progress has been made by  public schools in the past decade. In some grades and subjects, such as third grade reading the schools have cut the achievement gap in half in this past decade down to 18 percentage points. Still, the gaps grow larger as students move through the grades.

So by the time African American students are in eighth grade math classes,  31 percent fewer of them are passing the state tests compared to white students.

This year the percentage of African American students scoring proficient or advanced in reading fell 1.8 points at the elementary level to 77.9 and rose 1.9 points at the middle school level to 73.3. In math the percentage scoring in the proficient range fell 4.3 points at the elementary level to 74 and 4.4 points in middle school to 56.3.

Scores for Hispanic students dipped even more dramatically than they did for African Americans with declines of 4 percentage points in reading and 7 percentage points for math in the elementary grades. The percentage of Hispanic students passing the tests is about 2 to 4 percentage points higher in the elementary and middle school grades in both subjects.

The scores remain stubbornly below those of white and Asian students. Asian students who out perform white students did about the same as they did last year, the only subgroup that did not see major slides in achievement. The greatest decreases for Asian students came in middle schools where there was a 2 percentage point decline in both reading and math. Pass rates for Asians remain well above 90 percent. 

More than 90 percent of white students pass the exams in the elementary grades, although only 85 percent of white students passed the middle school math tests, and that was a decline of 3 percentage points.

The results for students living in poverty are very closely aligned to the results for African American students. In many cases the passing percentages are the same or very close.

If there is one group that educators might be most concerned about it is special education students and English language learners who are far behind every other group.

The state stopped giving a modified exam for some 6,000 special education students, largely because those students will be expected to take the new exams when they begin to be used in the 2014-2015 school year.

Still, the results showed only a third of special education students in middle school could pass the test in math and only 52 percent could pass it in reading. The pass rates had dropped by about 10 percentage points each from last year.


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