Friday, March 19, 2010

More on testing, boys, and race

The Center on Education Policy published a report this week on standardized test score trends in every state from the early 2000's through the 2008 school year. Their big takeaway: an achievement gap between girls and boys (the girls being the winners). Anyone who's read recent boy-literature (Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson; The Trouble With Boys; a Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do, by Newsweek writer Peg Tyre, about which more later; and stacks of other similar books) knows about this somewhat unexpected, and yet somehow unsurprising trend. Everyone knows that boys hate school and girls, well, don't hate it.

What the CEP found was that across the board, boys are trailing girls in reading, and girls are catching up to boys in math. Oddly enough, they describe this as "good news for girls, but troubling news for boys." In California, actually, girls haven't caught up significantly--they were never that far behind to begin with. For example, the Male-Female Achievement Gaps and Trends report shows that equal numbers of boys and girls in 4th grade scored at a Proficient level or higher in math in 2004 (a shocking 45%) as in 2008 (up to 62%). That is to say, everyone got better.

The shocker is that although it was the same in reading (same % rise in test scores), 12% fewer boys than girls tested proficient every year. That's a lot. And the numbers seem to be about the same throughout the nation.

All of this after the last post about how those darn tests are pointless and dumb and don't tell the whole story. I suppose that's true--what do the numbers mean, exactly? Kids got better at math, or kids got better at taking the tests? Or teachers got smarter about teaching to the tests? (No Child Left Behind offered monetary incentives for teachers and schools with high test scores, remember.)

Jack Jennings, the CEO of CEP, said in a press release that "our analysis suggests that the gap between boys and girls in reading is a cause for concern," and that (duh) we need to do more to support boys in reading early on, as this has implications for higher education--dropping college enrollment rates among males, for example.

While I agree that the gender gap is troubling, and that something needs to be done to make school more palatable for boys, I find it odd that a) this is news--that is, new information and b) the most troubling trend (I think) is considered rhetorically less important; Jennings continues, "Although the gaps--particularly in reading--are not nearly as large as those found between racial/ethnic and income subgroups (my emphasis), they are telling and have serious implications for the futures of all our students."

A quick look at the Subgroup Achievement and Gaps Trends report for California shows that while overall test scores have gone up in the past five years, the lowest-achieving racial/ethnic groups (blacks and Latinos) have--surprise!--made the smallest gains of all the subgroups--and sometimes no gain at all.

I don't know--maybe everyone knows that those darn Mexicans and blacks are doing badly, so it's not worth talking about? Maybe it's too depressing to focus on how we're failing poor youth? Maybe closing the gender gap seems like a more do-able project? Maybe the powerful (white) males in this country will mobilize faster and better to help their own than to help the poor? Not that boys of the privileged class don't need help--according to the aforementioned Peg Tyre, they really are trailing across the board--even in places like Los Altos.

Or maybe (hopefully) the writers of this press release are hoping that in mobilizing the powerful to help boys in general, the effects will trickle down somehow and help the most at-risk population of all: black and Latino boys.

Stepping off my soapbox, this is Misa Sugiura.

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