Wide Racial Gap Persists in Education Testing

Collin Binkley, The Columbus Dispatch, September 22, 2013

Even if they come from affluent families or attend highly rated schools, black students in Ohio continue to lag far behind their white peers in school, according to a Dispatch analysis of data from state standardized exams.

On more than two dozen state tests given to students in kindergarten through high school last year, the average passage rate among black students was 64 percent. On average, 87 percent of white students passed.


In Ohio wide race gaps persist even on a level economic field.

Average passing rates among affluent white students last year topped those of affluent black students by 16 percentage points. Poor, white students outperformed black students from poor and wealthy families.


New state report cards penalized schools this year if certain student groups, including racial minorities, didn’t improve enough over a year. Schools that have long earned high overall marks received D’s and F’s in that area.

At the same time, parents of black students have formed groups in their districts to advocate for minority children. {snip}

“There are clearly divisions along ethnic lines within the district,” said Vaughn Bell, a Westerville parent who revived a defunct group for black parents last year. “I do believe that schools are failing our African-American students.”


“These gaps are traceable back to early-childhood education,” said Shaun Harper, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. “If kids show up in kindergarten not having had high-quality instruction in preschool, they’re already starting behind.”


Beyond poverty, though, some say schools set the bar too low for minorities.

“We expect less of our low-income students and students of color,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, senior data and policy analyst for Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that works to close achievement gaps.

Studies have found that black and Latino students are less likely to be placed in advanced courses, even if they show promise in a subject. Minority students are also more likely to be taught by less-experienced teachers.


The consequences of achievement gaps can be crushing.

For example, 61 percent of black students in Ohio pass the third-grade reading test, compared with 87 percent of white students.

That’s important because one study found that students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19. It’s 19 times less likely for poor students who don’t read well by third grade.


Some of the widest gaps in Ohio are in urban schools, which have long struggled to improve scores among large minority populations.

In 2010, less than 5 percent of black students passed the Ohio third-grade reading exam at Lincoln Park Elementary, a majority black school at the time. More than 70 percent of white students at the Columbus school passed.

But even in suburban districts, including Dublin, Worthington and Westerville, there are schools where whites routinely outperform blacks by wide margins.


Ultimately, though, there is no magic bullet.

Some experts such as Ushomirsky argue for school-level solutions, such as pairing top teachers with low-performing students. Harper says governments need to invest more in minority neighborhoods. Both agree that the stakes are clear.

“If we don’t do something about these inequities, the long-term consequences for our economy are enormous,” Harper said. “Inevitably we will see more poverty, more crime and so on.”

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