Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Black Students Make Gains, but Achievement Gap Remains 'It's an Issue of Health, Welfare and Safety'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Black Students Make Gains, but Achievement Gap Remains 'It's an Issue of Health, Welfare and Safety'

Article excerpt

Academic achievement among African-American students - as measured by standardized test scores, college readiness and success on Advanced Placement exams - is alarmingly low nationwide, and Pennsylvania's numbers fall even lower than the national averages.

That was the message portrayed in the report "The Path Forward: Improving Opportunities for African-American Students," released Thursday jointly by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the NAACP.

One measure of academic achievement used in the report are the results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, which have been given to a representative sample of students every two years since the 1970s.

While scores are up when compared with those in the early 1990s, the 2015 NAEP results are still exceedingly low with just 18 percent of fourth-grade African-American students nationwide scoring proficient in reading and 19 percent in math. Scores in eighth-grade are worse, with 16 percent of African-American students scoring proficient in reading and 13 percent in math.

Pennsylvania's eighth-grade math scores among African-American students in 2015 were among the bottom five in the nation with just 8 percent hitting proficiency.

This compares with a national average among all students of 36 percent proficiency for fourth-grade reading and 40 percent in fourth-grade math, and 34 percent in eighth-grade reading and 40 percent in eighth-grade math.

"We are looking at the numbers across the state and across the country. It continues to be a huge concern. We need more than just the people who care about schools to think about this," said Carey Harris, director of the educational advocacy group A+ Schools.

"It's an issue of health, welfare and safety. Kids who don't have opportunities become adults who don't have any opportunities and that's not good for anybody," Ms. Harris said.

The 2015 NAEP scores compare with those from the early 1990s when just 8 percent of African-American fourth-graders nationally scored proficient in reading and 1 percent scored proficient in math. During the same time frame, 9 percent of African-American eighth- graders scored proficient in reading and 5 percent in math.

Other 2015 scores from Pennsylvania show 13 percent of African- American eighth-grade students scoring proficient in reading. Among fourth-graders in the state, 15 percent scored proficient in math and 17 percent in reading.

The report shows high school graduation rates for African- Americans, based on the 2013 graduating class, ranging from 84 percent in Texas to 57 percent in Nevada and Oregon, with Pennsylvania at 73 percent. Pennsylvania's average for African- American students is higher than the national average of 71 percent for African-American students but lower than the state average of 86 percent for all students. …

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