U.S. minorities gain in academic testing
JULY 15, 2005
By Jeff Commings
Minority students in the United States are catching up to their white peers in national test scores.
The findings were released Thursday in a U.S. Department of Education study that analyzed test scores of 28,000 white, black and Hispanic students in the 2003-04 school year and compared them with results of 10 previous tests dating back to 1971. The test is given to 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds.
What the study found was that reading and math scores for blacks and Hispanics increased more over the 33 years than the scores of their white counterparts, narrowing the gap in test scores.
State and regional results won't be released until later this year, but Ray Chavez, head of multicultural studies in the Tucson Unified School District, said he expects Arizona to "mirror" the national trend.
"The gains aren't as significant, not as much as we'd like it to be, but there are gains," said Chavez. "There is improvement in closing the gap."
The test, created and administered by the National Center for Educational Statistics, is widely considered to be the nation's report card on how schools are doing and how well federal programs are being administered in schools. The test used to have a science component, but that was discontinued after the last test in 1999 because advances in science made the standard questions obsolete.
Other changes to the 2004 test included testing students with disabilities and English-language learners.
During an appearance Thursday at a black business convention in Indianapolis, President Bush claimed some credit for narrowing the gap in test scores for the No Child Left Behind law he signed in January 2002, which mandates frequent testing of students to chart their progress in reading and math.
"These results show that when performance is measured, and schools are held accountable, every child can succeed," Bush said.
Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, credited teachers, administrators and schools.
"The bottom line is kids are doing better and the gap is closing and that is very promising," she said.
Scores for white students hardly changed in 33 years among all three ages. In the reading portion, scores showed a two- to 12-point increase. Math scores rose three to 22 points.
Scores for Asians and American Indians weren't available for this part of the study, according to the NCES Web site, because the number of students in those race categories who took the test was too small.
One reason for the local and national improvement, Chavez said, is the continuing changes in what groups are considered minorities. In Tucson, 36 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to 2000 census figures. That's 7 percentage points more than the 1990 census. The number of Hispanics in the United States - as well as the number of blacks - continues to creep closer to the number of whites in the country.
"The people who are called the minority are kind of the majority," Chavez said. "We need to make sure that the kids that are leaving our schools have the chance to achieve an equitable education."
Many of Tucson's 13-year-olds who took the recent national assessment would now be sophomores who just took their first high school AIMS test this year, Chavez said. He found that these students continued to do well in the year between tests.
"The one group that seemed to do well were Hispanic 10th-graders," said Chavez, a former critic of assessment who now believes testing has given teachers a better focus in the classroom.
While Hispanics showed gains in all three ages over the history of the test (10 to 22 points gained in reading, 12 to 28 points gained in math), black students had the most remarkable gains in the test.
Blacks in the three age groups scored 22 to 30 points higher in the reading portion, and 15 to 54 points higher in math among the three ages.
Blacks earned their highest scores in the history of the test, with the exception of the 17-year-olds who took the reading test. Nationwide, whites and Hispanics stayed mostly stagnant in their scores over 33 years.
"We haven't seen significant gains like that (in Tucson), but we have seen gains," Chavez said. "Part of it is that we've increased graduation requirements to make more kids aware that they need more math classes to graduate."
Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a national advocate for poor and minority students, said the results put "to rest the notion that achievement gaps are inevitable. Expectations have increased, and students of color are rising to the challenge."
● The Associated Press contributed to this story. ● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or  azstarnet.com.