The nation’s low test scores in science and technology were troubling, but no more so than the “stark achievement gap” between white and black and Hispanic students and the equally stark gap between students in the upper- and lower-income categories.
The problem is nothing new. It has shown up on tests before. However, in this climate it is common to question whether the nation is on the right track and to wring our hands over how we may be falling behind other countries.
That’s why it’s time to consider how low achievement by poor and minority students not only brings down test scores, but it also reflects a situation that will continue to make America less globally competitive if it’s not corrected.
The figures tell the tale. Only 10 percent of black students scored high enough to be proficient in science in the fourth grade; 46 percent of whites scored at the necessary rate — not an impressive score, either. Once in high school, the numbers are even more depressing.
Seventy-one percent of black students score below the basic science knowledge level, which means they lack an understanding of the basic fundamentals of the physical world. Those in the proficient category had declined to 4 percent. Fifty-eight percent of Hispanic 12th-graders scored below basic, while 21 percent of whites did.
“These are really stunning and concerning numbers,” said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, and they are.
Refigure the test scores based on income and the results are much the same. And with low-income and minority students being the fastest growing part of America’s youth population, the problem comes even more sharply into focus.
Meanwhile, there’s Alabama.
The state has shown significant progress in the last decade, moving from 31st to 25th on Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report; that’s the first time the state has pushed above the national average since forever.
Nevertheless, Alabama still has a way to go to pull up its scores on categories like “chance for success,” which looks at factors that contribute to how well students are prepared for school, and “K-12 achievement,” where the “academic poverty gap between low-income students and non-low-income students” really comes into play.
Once again, Alabama’s leaders are faced with difficult choices, all of which will have long-range effects. Will they cut education and risk dropping back to where we have been historically? Or will they challenge Alabamians to make the sacrifice to help schools continue the improvements they have made?
Let’s see how they choose.