The Arlington School Board approved continued funding last night for programs designed to improve the academic performance of black students, although the programs, in effect four years, have not produced improvement in standardized test scores.

The board's approval of $71,023 was unanimous after three project proposals were cut from a spending request of $93,923. The approved total is about $9,000 less than last year's spending for the programs. Sixteen projects remained after the deletion of proposals made by the county career center and Drew and Key elementary schools.

Two board members, Frank Wilson and Dorothy Clarke, expressed concern that some of the proposals were not sufficiently academically oriented.

"I'm concerned {that} when we find ourselves buying spotlights and things like that, that it is inappropriate," Wilson said, referring to the Drew proposal.

The gap between test scores for black and white students, and the continued decline in black student scores have frustrated Arlington parents and officials.

"This is nothing new," said Robert MacGregor, director of the Arlington County NAACP. "For the past decade blacks have been 20 points behind white students, and {they} are falling further behind."

Programs for minority students elsewhere in the Washington area have been criticized as ineffective. Last week the Fairfax School Board voted to hire a consultant to examine its minority achievement program, which has produced dismal results.

Arlington will use its minority achievement funding to serve not only black children, who make up 16.5 percent of Arlington's 14,500 students, but Hispanics and Asians, who make up 22 percent and 11.3 percent of the student population, respectively. That plan has drawn fire from black parents.

"We want to make sure that the focus remains on black children," said Lavonne Stewart, a member of Parents in Education, a group of about 40 black parents. "Broadening the focus of the minority education {program} would mean giving less adequate funds for black students."

Study results released last month detailing the academic performance of the county's students by school, grade level and ethnic group showed a slight decline in the standardized test scores of black students in the last two years.

On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which tests all subject areas including math, science, social studies and reading, blacks at all grade levels scored below average in every category.

"If you look at it countywide, the results are disappointing," said Sharon G. Monde, coordinator of the minority achievement program. "We're not happy with the test scores," she said.

But Monde said some gains have been made.

"In our schools, we have more black students taking more advanced classes," she said. "There's more participation in the after-school programs."

But there are indications that the process of improving black students' academic performance may be more difficult than originally thought, Monde said.

"If you've got a high school kid with 10 years of schooling behind him, you're not going to turn that student around in two years," she said.

Most of the minority achievement programs are at the elementary school level, and some, such as an after-school tutoring program at Taylor Elementary School, focus primarily on academics.

But many of the programs are cultural, such as the enrichment program at the Ashlawn Elementary School and an Arts in the Afternoon program at Henry and Randolph elementary schools.