Sixth graders who attend Chicago Public Schools, according to recent scholarly analysis, are performing a grade level behind the national average on reading and math tests. And they’re nearly five grade levels behind sixth graders in one of the wealthiest places in the country — Lexington, Massachusetts.
An April 29 New York Times article highlighted the new research, out of Stanford University, that shows, “Racial, socioeconomic, and gender disparities in academic performance and educational attainment are stubborn features of the U.S. educational system,” according to a statement on the website of the Stanford Education Data Archive — the data’s online home.
“These disparities are neither inevitable nor immutable, however,” the statement continues. “They have been produced by — and so may also be reduced by — a welter of social and economic policies, social norms and patterns of interaction, and the organization of American schooling.”
The Stanford analysis surveyed data “from about 200 million standardized math and reading tests given to third through eighth graders in every state between 2009 and 2012,” according to the Times.
“Although different states administer different exams, [researchers] were able to compare the state results with scores on federal tests known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress in order to develop a consistent scale by which to compare districts.”
Sean Reardon, the lead analyst of the Stanford research project, told the Times that the data shouldn’t be utilized to rank schools or districts; rather, the scores are indicators of a range of dynamics that influence educational outcomes, such as the quality of preschools attended, personal traumas and family structure, among many others.
But Reardon was a lot less circumspect about the clear general pattern the data shows. “What emerges clearly in the data,” the Times noted, “is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how the connection is exacerbated in school settings.”
The median family income among CPS sixth graders between 2009 and 2012 was $38,000. The median family income among Lexington, Massachusetts sixth graders was more than $160,000. Lexington’s student body was 59 percent white, 33 percent Asian/other and four percent black. By comparison, CPS was 44 percent Hispanic, 43 percent black and four percent Asian/other.
The racial inequities, however, even extend to within school districts — whether they be rich or poor, the Stanford analysis shows.
For instance, when researchers disaggregated the data to show performance on reading and math tests by race, white sixth graders at CPS actually performed more than a grade level above the national average, Hispanics performed a grade level below the national norm and black students performed nearly two grade levels below the national norm.
Thena Robinson Mock, the project director for Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, told the Times, “If a school is in a neighborhood that is highly segregated serving students of color and under-resourced, that is going to have a devastating impact on those who are experiencing a crisis.”
“But the others who may not be suffering that crisis at home are also going to suffer from not having enough resources or high-quality teachers. So it will impact the entire school community if those factors are at play.”