Below the Curve in Education

California’s
African-American, white, Latino and low-income students all have improved significantly
on national tests in fourth-grade reading and eight-grade math over the past
decade, and at a slightly better pace than the nation as a whole, according
to a new report
.

California leads
the nation in financial aid offered to low-income college students. It’s in the
middle of the pack – 25th – nationally when it comes to college affordability.

That’s
about the end of the good news for the Golden State
in The Education Trust’s series of annual Education Watch
series released recently.

The 52
reports – each state, the District of
Columbia and the nation as a whole – use data from
federal and state education departments, the U.S. Census bureau and several
private foundations to compare student achievement and opportunity across the
nation.

California
didn’t fare well
for the most part.

  • 34th in per-student funding, with a 7 percent gap
    between students in high-poverty and low-poverty districts.
  • Ahead of only Mississippi in eighth-grade science
    scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data were
    unavailable for seven states, though, so California can delude itself that it’s
    not really that bad.
  • 47th in math scores for low-income
    eighth-graders. High-income students performed only slightly better,
    coming in at 45th
  • Low-income fourth-graders’ reading scores ranking
    51st.
  • California
    has made no statistically significant progress in narrowing the
    achievement gap between African-American and white students or Latino and
    white students in fourth-grade reading sine 1998 or eight-grade math since
    2000.
  • The California Standards Test showed 51 percent
    of the state’s fourth-graders at proficient or above in reading in 2007,
    but NAEP results showed only 23 percent proficient or better.

There’s a
valid reason for that difference, a difference that disappears by the way if
you look at the 53 percent of California
students who are basic or above on NAEP.

NAEP was
designed to test against the ultimate education experience – everything
teachers would want students to know in an ideal world. CST, and most
state-level exams, is designed to measure what students need to know. Not even
the highest-performing countries would have 100 percent of their students reach
NAEP’s “basic” level, experts say.

“Simply
put, NAEP’s standard for proficiency is set at a level we want every student to
reach, while states set their standard for proficiency at a level we expect
every student to reach,” the nonprofit Center for Public Education says.

It’s yet
another gap that California
has to be concerned about nonetheless, given that U.S. Education Secretary Arne
Duncan is a NAEP fan.

“We
have states that tell the public that 90 percent of kids are meeting state
standards, but when we look at how they’re doing on the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, it’s nowhere close,” Duncan
told The New York Times
in
February. “I’m not going to reward that. I want to be transparent
about the good, bad and the ugly.”

The state
and national results do dovetail when it comes to patterns.

When the
most recent CST scores were release in August, Education
Trust Wes
t also noted achievement gains across ethnic and income groups
while stressing that achievement gaps persist.

Education
Trust West also noted concerns about inadequate progress in helping students
who score below basic and far below basic, and that’s one of the great ironies
of No Child Left Behind.

As
educators focus on students close to proficient, more children on the very high
and low extremes are being left behind. Some
research
shows that the problem is even more acute for high-achieving
students