New Data Show Achievement Gap Narrowing

January 12, 2006
African American and Hispanic students are making significant progress in narrowing the achievement gap with their peers in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and across the nation, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast reported to the Board of Education.

Dr. Weast presented the Board with new SAT and Advanced Placement data that demonstrate the comprehensive reforms enacted six years ago are resulting in unparalleled success for all students. Overall, 53 percent of last year’s seniors scored an 1100 or better on the SAT, compared with the national average of 38 percent.

“The evidence is clear—our teachers, principals and support staff have helped more students achieve at higher levels than ever before,” Weast said. “Together, we have been working to break down barriers and give every student an opportunity to succeed," said Dr. Weast.

“We know that to continue to narrow the achievement gap we have to provide all students with access to rigorous courses; equity in supports and resources; and quality curriculum and instruction at every level,” Dr. Weast added.

Narrowing the gap

White and Asian American students continue to outperform every group and to achieve some of the highest scores in the nation. At the same time, more African American and Hispanic students than ever before are scoring better than 1100 and are outperforming the national average for all students. Over the last five years, the percentage of African American students scoring 1100 or better has jumped 52 percent and the percentage of Hispanic students passing this mark has risen 48 percent.

In the Class of 2005, 20 percent of African American seniors and 22 percent of Hispanic seniors taking the SAT scored above 1100, compared with the national average of 11 percent and 18 percent, respectively, for those two groups. This means that African American students in Montgomery County are only 18 percentage points behind the national average for all students, while African Americans in the rest of the country are 27 percentage points behind. Hispanic students in Montgomery County are only 16 percentage points below the national average for all students.

The success on the SAT is based on the strong growth in the school district’s Advanced Placement, Honors and International Baccalaureate programs. Last year, a record number of MCPS students participated in AP courses and succeeded on the rigorous exams.

The data indicate that 29 percent of African American seniors and 38 percent of Hispanic seniors took at least one AP exam in high school, the highest percentage ever and nearly double the percentage just five years ago. At the same time, a record percentage achieved a score high enough on the AP tests to earn college credit—17 percent for African American students and 33 percent for Hispanic students—nearly double the performance in 2001.

“Our community should be pleased with the significant progress we are making in narrowing the achievement gap,” said Dr. Charles Haughey, president of the Board of Education. “We have much more work to do, but we clearly are on the right path to ensuring success for every student.”

Dr. Weast noted that significant underperformance still exists on both the SAT and AP measures for African American and Hispanic students. Far too many students in both groups do not participate in the tests or score poorly.
However, the success of the early childhood reforms presents encouraging evidence that more African American and Hispanic students will be better prepared for the rigors of high school in the coming years.

Middle school reform effort

In addition, a new reform effort is under way at the middle school level to increase academic performance during these critical years. One way the school district is doing that is by increasing the number of students who complete Algebra I by eighth grade. Last year, about 24 percent of African American and Hispanic students completed Algebra I in the eighth grade, which is 9 percentage points higher than the national average for these groups.

A strengthened elementary program

More and more students in all groups will be prepared for algebra because of the advancements in elementary school. Five years ago, only 196 students completed the advanced Math A course in Grade 5, including just a handful of African American and Hispanic students. This year, there are 3,800 students taking the course, including about 500 African American students and 380 Hispanic students. That’s a record number of students taking the course, essentially accelerating the completion of pre-algebra instruction normally introduced in Grade 6.

This achievement is the result of the strengthened elementary instructional program that also produced the highest-ever percentage of African American and Hispanic students achieving proficient and advanced levels of performance in Grades 3, 4 and 5 on the Maryland School Assessments in both reading and mathematics last year. Indeed, the high performance on the MSA was most striking in Grade 4, where proficient and advanced performance in mathematics reached 69 percent for African American students and 72 percent for Hispanic students, and 76 percent in reading for both groups, the highest ever. The districtwide average also set a record, with 86.4 percent of students deemed proficient in reading and 83.5 percent proficient in mathematics.

On the national Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS), MCPS students also saw record achievement last year, with 76 percent of scores above the national average. African American and Hispanic students continue to outscore more than half of their peers nationally. African American and Hispanic students now have performances in mathematics computation at the 76th percentile, their highest scores ever. Just four years ago, African American and Hispanic students scored only in the 49th percentile.

Kindergartners excel

MCPS kindergartners continue to excel in basic reading skills, with each class surpassing the previous class in mastery of the material. “It’s clear evidence that the focus on early childhood is yielding positive results and preparing these students well for a lifetime of learning,” Dr. Weast said.

Last year, 78 percent of African American students in kindergarten and 69 percent of Hispanic students met the reading benchmark, again the highest percentage ever. And the districtwide average in kindergarten rose 10 points, from 71 percent to 81 percent.

“It is clear from our own research that fluency in reading by Grade 3 is linked to participation in Honors and AP courses in high school,” Dr.Weast said. “We know the pathways for student success. Now we have to make sure that every student is on that pathway.”

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