Report: Achievement gap alarming

By Nick Anderson
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; A04

Black male students trail their white counterparts in school by alarming margins and for reasons that often are not well understood, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy organization for urban education, suggests that poverty is not the only factor behind the black-white achievement gap.

Federal test data show that white male students nationwide who come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches outperform black males from large cities whose families are better off economically, according to the report.

The report analyzed fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"We hope that this is a louder and more jolting wake-up call to the nation than this country is used to hearing," Michael Casserly, the council's executive director, wrote in the report. "The fact that previous calls have fallen on so many deaf ears is not encouraging, but we are convinced that we must ring the alarms one more time and play a larger role in setting this situation right."

In some ways, the report underscored signs of progress. The fourth-grade gap in reading, for example, has narrowed in recent years. In 2003, black males from large cities trailed white males in that subject by 35 points on a 500-point scale. By 2009, the gap was down to 28 points.

But such gains are coming too slowly, the report contends, with gaps remaining in the range of 30 points for other test results analyzed in fourth and eighth grades.

Meanwhile, other measures of academic performance for black males continue to lag. Black males drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of white males (9 percent in 2008, compared with 5 percent). They also are far less likely than white males to meet college readiness benchmarks or enroll in college.

The report calls for the White House, Congress and colleges to take steps to lift black male student performance.

It also suggests more mentoring and school counseling initiatives to help such students succeed.

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