NECAP: Achievement Gaps Exist, but Middle Class RI Kids On Par or Better than ME, NH, VT Peers

Progress. That’s what the latest NECAP results show, though Education Commissioner Gist still correctly points out there is work to be done, particularly in closing the “achievement gaps”. What are these gaps? As 7to7 reported:

Achievement gaps among minority and low-income students and students with learning disabilities and students with limited English proficiency persist. The gaps are as large as 30 to 40 percentage points when compared to white students, students who do not receive free or reduced lunch, students who do not receive special education services and students who speak English.

Commissioner Gist:

“Today’s news is not all good,” Gist said. “In terms of statewide progress, we don’t see the gains we’d like to see …. And we are very, very concerned about achievement gaps.”
She reiterated her belief that Rhode Islanders need to ramp up their expectations for students and let go of familiar arguments about why some students don’t succeed.
“We are confident and feel very strongly that students across this state, whatever their neighborhood, whatever their school, whatever their family background, can achieve at high levels,” she said. “… At the end of the day, we will not accept excuses for our children not achieving because we know that they can. Teacher effectiveness is hugely important. If students have a highly effective teacher three years in a row, we can essentially close the achievement gap.”

That is all true and there is clearly work to be done, but we always seem to focus on the “overall” scores or the scores of disadvantaged groups. I wondered how RI students who have no “disadvantages” are performing as compared to those in other states. Looking at the various data–and there’s a lot of it from 4 states–I finally resolved that using data for 5th graders (who also took the NECAP Writing test in addition to Reading and Math) would provide a good snapshot of the multi-state results.
Now, the data is inconsistent in that, unfortunately, Vermont doesn’t break out their scores by grade in the aggregate data. However, I included their grades 3-8 data (hence the * in the tables below) because it’s close–and I provided all of RI’s data for comparision, which was 3-8 and grade 11.
First, here is the percentage of students Proficient and Above who were not considered economically disadvantaged.

Grade 5 – Not Economically Disadvantaged      
  Reading Math Writing
NH 83 78
ME 79 73 52
RI 84 76 70
VT* 81 75 61
RI-All 83 68

It’s clear that RI 5th graders–who could be considered your average, suburban, middle-class kids–are very competitive (and better in 2 out of 3 categories; 2nd to NH in Math) with their northern New England peers. That is good news, isn’t it?!
So, what about the 5th graders who are economically disadvantaged?

Grade 5 – Economically Disadvantaged      
  Reading Math Writing
NH 65 57
ME 59 47 31
RI 60 46 46
VT* 36 46 36
RI-All 56 39

The 20-25 point drop (the “gap”) from not-economically disadvantaged and those who are defined as such is pretty consistent across the states no matter the tested subject. This difference based on economic prosperity isn’t a surprise and, to my mind, when comparing the results across these 4 states, it is a more accurate comparison than using race, for instance. To begin with, there just aren’t that many minorities in the northern New England states, but also, while the poor in Rhode Island are often urban minorities, that is not the case in northern New England. To show what I mean, here are the overall NECAP results for Whites (regardless of economic standing):

Grade 5 – Whites    
  Reading Math Writing
NH 80 75
ME 62 62 44
RI 81 72 65
VT* 51 62 51
RI-All 79 64

Rhode Island white students track pretty close to non-economically disadvantaged students. Contrast that with Maine, for instance, where there is a 17 point achievement gap between all whites and non-economically disadvantaged ones in Reading. In fact, in Reading the 62% proficient or above score for all whites is barely above the 59% for economically disadvantaged Maine students. Vermont shows similar data characteristics Maine while New Hampshire is actually much more like Rhode Island.
What does it all mean? To be sure, as Commissioner Gist stressed, there is much work to be done where achievement gaps exist and I’m not trying to shove those students to the side. But positive news is positive news, folks. So, based on this limited survey (only so much time, folks!) I don’t think it’s being a Pollyanna to take these results as evidence that middle-class and above Rhode Island students are competitive with–or doing better than–their northern New England neighbors. Obviously, there is room for improvement and we should and will continue to push for 90% and better proficiency and above. Right now, it looks like we’re headed in the right direction. Faster, please (to coin a phrase).
Sources: Maine Grade 5 2010-11 NECAP results, State of NH NECAP Grade Comparison, NECAP Fall 2010 Vermont Results, Vermont NECAP Fall 2010 Grades 3-8 disagregated data, State of RI NECAP Reports, Rhode Island’s NECAP Math, Reading, and Writing Results for Grades 3-8 and 11.

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13 years ago

So how do you raise the scores of black kids when they come from a culture that condemns those who strive for success as “acting white”? You have to change a whole culture and surprise, surprise, kids who come from that culture are poor, I mean “economically disadvantaged.”
Good luck!

13 years ago

Raising scores in the inner city is a matter of more than just preparing studets to take a test. Yes, much change must come from within communities and must include a change in culture to embrace eduational achievement. However, resources also need to be made available to students. Which brings me to my personal concern over the loss of public libraries in communities that need such resources the most. During the time I taught middle school at Perry and Roger Williams, I know the libraries were the only places where many of my students could use a computer, have access to books, get help with their homework, or simply have quiet place to complete their homework. I tutored a young woman for awhile at the Mt.Pleasant library who was a recent immigrant from Liberia. At 16, she had limited schooling, was suffering the effects of war, and had a baby that she conceived in the refugee camp – most likely as the result of rape. This young lady desperately wanted to learn and wanted to excel, but she needed a lot of help. The library was the only place where I could work with her because there was no place for her to work in the tiny apartment she shared with her mother, several siblings, and new baby. Her mother could not tutor her because her mother was not literate and could just barely sign her name. In this family, the kids wanted to do well in school and the mother wanted her children to succeed, but that could not happen without resources such as the public library. It is just one small step, but if you want students in poor neighborhoods to have access to the supports they need to be successful, begin by fighting to save libraries.

Pat Crowley
Pat Crowley
13 years ago

you mean poverty, mobility, and parental education levels matter after all?
NO WAY? Who ever would have believed that?

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