N.J. Students Test Scores Show
'Staggering' Gaps Between Races
By Melanie Burney, Wendy Ginsberg and Kaitlin Gurney
Philiadelphia Inquirer Staff Writers

For the first time, New Jersey yesterday released school test results by race and the differences were staggering.
A huge racial gap in success rates exists for public school fourth-grade students in science, math and language arts. Similar disparities were found among eighth and 11th graders.
Math scores showed the greatest differences, in both urban and suburban districts.
Statewide, 78 percent of all white students were proficient or higher. The same category for blacks was 35 percent, 85 percent for Asians, and 48 percent for Hispanics.
Students not scoring at least proficient - in this case, 65 percent of black fourth graders in the state - fall below the state minimum and may be most in need of instructional support, according to the state.
Pennsylvania released data last year that found similar gaps.
In Burlington County, 53 percent of black students were at least proficient in math, compared with 62 percent for Hispanics, 81 percent for whites, and 82 percent for Asians.
In Camden County, 44 percent of black students were at least proficient in math, 46 percent of Hispanics, 82 percent of whites, and 86 percent of Asians.
In Gloucester County, 35 percent of blacks were at least proficient in math, 44 percent of Hispanics, 79 percent of whites, and 87 percent of Asians.
The county scores exclude special education and limited English-speaking students. Statewide percentages include all students.
"Those test scores mean the system and the community have failed those kids," said Gloucester County NAACP Chairman Milton Hinton, who worked last year to bring more minority teachers to the county.
The disparity in test scores between white and minority students reflects a national trend, but state education officials said the results raise concerns.
"It should not matter where a child goes to school," state Department of Education Commissioner Vito A. Gagliardi Sr. said in a statement. "He or she should have an equal opportunity to succeed."
Harvard University Professor Gary Olfield, an expert in education and social policy, attributes much of the racial gap to differences in parent education, income, and segregated schools.
"The basic problems aren't a big mystery," Olfield said. "It would just take a lot of money and a lot of courage to fix them. New Jersey has made some success in a generation's worth of court rulings, but there's a lot further to go."
The scores suggest that districts across the board are doing a poor job educating economically disadvantaged students. For example, only 40 percent of those students were proficient or advanced proficient in math, compared with 77 percent for non-economically disadvantaged students.
Even when controlling for income levels, the gap still exists, the results found. In the state's more affluent suburban districts, for example, 55 percent of black students were proficient or advanced proficient in math, 70 percent of Hispanics, 87 percent of whites, and 91 percent of Asians.
The gap widened among eighth and 11th graders in the three subjects when compared with the difference among fourth graders. State officials say younger students benefited from the state's whole school reform and curriculum changes implemented when they entered school.
For example, while the white-to-black comparison for math was 78 percent to 35 percent among fourth graders, it was wider at 74 percent against 29 percent in the eighth grade.
Educators from around the region reacted warily yesterday to the state's decision to release the scores according to race.
"I applaud what the state is trying in making us more aware that we have a very diverse community," said Edgewater Park School Superintendent Scott Streckenbein. "But there are so many factors that contribute to children's abilities. The standardized test is the capture of a kid's knowledge on a given day at a given time."
Marilyn Allen, principal at Camden's Whittier School, said tests are not a true reflection of how well minorities perform academically. "Do they tell the truth as to what the children actually know? I don't think it does," she said.
Said Willingboro superintendent Alonzo Kittrels: "I'm not going to accept that race is a contributing factor." Kittrels said "a child's environment has a lot to do with what's happening."
Hinton, of the NAACP, said he feared a backlash from the scores. People may conclude that "African Americans are not serious about education, and won't focus on the reason this is happening," he said.
Carmen Mitcho, principal of the Thomas E. Bowe Elementary School in Glassboro, disagreed. He said most educators realize that analyzing test scores along racial lines gives them an opportunity to address what is really an economic problem.
"You find a wealthy kid, and that's a kid who's likely to do better on test scores," Mitcho said. "How would I improve the schools in Glassboro? I'd give every parent a better job, and just watch the improvement in the school system."
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, questioned whether the data will improve test scores. "What is a particular school or district going to do with this?" Sciarra asked.
Cherry Hill officials began sorting their test data by race several years ago to address the disparity, said school district spokeswoman Gail Cohen.
While the gap is tremendous, Cohen said the district has made progress by encouraging minority students to take advanced classes, involving parents, and instituting a summer math program.
Pennsauken plans to add an extra period of math classes for its middle-school students next year. The district also is instituting all-day kindergarten.
"They're all our kids and they all have to succeed," Pennsauken Superintendent Walter Quint said. "We know we have to do a better job to get those scores up for every student."

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