National Perspective on MN Test Score Gap
Many education reformers seems to believe, and are certainly content to let the public believe that “…we have the worst education outcomes for children of color in the COUNTRY, in particular for Black children,” as one MinnPost reader recently commented. That is untrue. If it were true, it would be damning, but it simply isn’t true. Using recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores paint a different picture.
NAEP exams are one of the few tools that can be used to compare students across the country because students take the same tests at the same time. Using state level exams and tests, or even graduation rates do not provide reliable comparisons. States design their own state level exams and the definition of graduation rate differs from one state to the next, indeed from one school district to the next.
According to the most recent NAEP scores, fourth grade Black students in Minnesota outperform the national average for all Black students in both math and science. In reading, Black students in Minnesota score below the national average for all Black students, but by 8th grade that difference virtually disappears.
Furthermore, 8th grade Black students in Minnesota exceed the national average for all Black students in math and science too. That sure doesn’t seem like the “worst education outcomes for children of color in the COUNTRY, in particular for Black children.” Instead, it seems that Black children in Minnesota generally outperform their counterparts in other states, at least in terms of NAEP scores.
It is true that the test score gap is larger in Minnesota than the national average test score gap, but consider that white students in Minnesota generally score well above the national average for white students in all but one of the aforementioned areas. Still, this test score gap is a cause for concern and should unite Minnesotans in attempting to address and resolve it. That is difficult to do, however in the current climate where teachers are vilified and insulted, where rah-rah reformers bash teachers and trash schools.
Steve Perry, a Connecticut education reformer, recently came to town as part of a series of speakers connected to the RESET education reform movement campaign. Perry claims some pretty dubious stats from his rather selective magnet school. This leads to questions about computing graduation and dropout rates. I wonder how Steve Perry claims a 100% graduation rate while the fact is that many students “drop-out” of his school.
Measuring and comparing graduation rates is not as straightforward as one might imagine. When does a school begin a cohort—kindergarten, ninth grade, or tenth grade? Maybe later? Do we count kids with disabilities or recent immigrant who may have more time to finish? Do we count kids that transfer schools, withdraw, move? Graduation rates, as reported by individual states, are inconsistent to say the least.
Published in 2013, the Building a Grad Nation report is an in-depth analysis of graduation rates that attempts to control for the fact that states compute graduation rates differently. The Grad Nation report puts Minnesota in the solid center with a graduation rate of nearly 77%. The report does show an unusually large 35 point gap between the graduation rate for White and Black students, yet further on the report concludes that Minnesota is in the top ten of states in reducing the gap between Black and White students from 2003-2010.
It seems to me that while we should all be concerned about making sure that all students recognize the value of their education and achieve at high levels, we need also to have an honest discussion. Black students do not do worse in Minnesota. In fact, Black students do better here (at least according to the NAEP scores) than in most other states.
Instead of seeking to vilify teachers, destroy schools and fracture communities, reformers should get real about the issues and work for solutions instead of scoring political points.
Caroline Hooper is a Minneapolis high school teacher.