For Wealthy County, Scores Don't Add Up

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, November 3, 2005

Dear Extra Credit Readers:

In a letter to Extra Credit, Rick Nelson referred to 2004 statistics I had compiled last year showing that black Fairfax County students trailed their peers in other Virginia school districts ["Theories on Why Black Students in Fairfax Trail Virginia Peers," Oct. 20]. Now that 2005 statistics have been released, I thought it would be useful to see how the data compared.

I compared elementary schools' pass rates in the 10 divisions in Virginia that have the greatest numbers of black students. Black students' scores have improved in all of the districts from 2004 to 2005 -- especially in math and reading, the focus of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Black students' scores in the other districts have on average increased more than blacks' scores in Fairfax County, so the gap between black Fairfax students and their peers in other counties has not closed and in some cases has widened. This is particularly true for third-grade English, lending credence to Mr. Nelson's assertion that we are not making adequate use of scientifically proven phonics-based methods to teach our children reading.

Fifty-two percent of black third-grade students in Fairfax County passed the reading SOL test in 2004, compared with between 61 percent and 63 percent in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Prince William County and Chesterfield County, and 71 percent in Henrico County, a large, diverse Richmond suburb. A year later, 59 percent of black Fairfax children passed the reading test -- up 7 percent from the year before -- but the other school districts in the comparison showed greater improvement. Fairfax remained 10th out of 10.

Norfolk showed the greatest improvement in one year -- 15 percent, raising its scores from a 56 percent pass rate to 71 percent.

The 2005 third-grade reading pass rates for black students in the 10 districts in the study are:

? Henrico, 75 percent.

? Chesterfield County, 74 percent.

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