Does Anyone Read the Nation's Report Card?; Results from the New Haven Police Sergeant's Promotion Test

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Does Anyone Read the Nation's Report Card?

The National Center for Education Statistics regularly conducts different versions of the National Assessment of the Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the "nation's report card." The long-term trend and the main versions of these tests have shown improving test scores for black students in many years, yet I rarely hear any acknowledgment of black test-score increases in popular discussions. Of course, it is hard to claim that black students are "making excuses" for lower academic achievement and point out that their test scores are improving at the same time.

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report on black and white achievement gaps this month. The report begins, once again, by noting that black scores have improved:
In 2007, mathematics scores for both Black and White public school students in grades 4 and 8 nationwide, as measured by the main NAEP assessments of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were higher than in any previous assessment, going back to 1990. This was also true for Black and White fourth-graders on the NAEP 2007 Reading Assessment. For grade 8, reading scores for both Black and White students were higher in 2007 than in the first reading assessment year, 1992, as well as the most recent previous assessment year, 2005.
One reason test-score gaps persist is because it is often the case that both black and white students' test scores increase at the same time.

It's important to be attentive to the black-white achievement gap, but the gap is only one achievement measure. It is not the full story. The report breaks down achievement by state for black and white students. In fourth-grade math, the gap is nearly twice as large in Massachusetts as in West Virginia. Does this mean that black students are doing better in West Virginia than in Massachusetts? The answer is no.

The average NAEP score for black students in Massachusetts is the highest of all the states (and tied with black students in New Jersey). The black-white NAEP math gap is smaller in West Virginia because white students in West Virginia have the lowest scores for whites, not because West Virginia black students have high scores. West Virginia black students actually score about average. The black-white gap is large in Massachusetts because whites in Massachusetts also have high scores relative to their group. Too many people fixate on the test-score gap without realizing that many different factors, including lower academic achievement for whites, can reduce the test-score gap. We need to look at the whole picture not just the test-score gap.

Results from the New Haven Police Sergeant's Promotion Test

New Haven recently conducted another civil service promotion test. The New Haven Independent reports, "The success rate was comparable among white males, white females, black males, and black females, according to city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden." However, none of the 10 Hispanics who took the test passed it. After an expert assessed to test to make sure that there was no bias, the results were validated by the city. This validation review was not done for the firefighter test that led to Ricci v. DeStefano. [Read more the story from the New Haven Independent.]

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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