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Racial Achievement Gap on MCAS Wider than Reported

Ohanian Comment: This isn't billed as an NCLB story yet, but it will be.

The racial achievement gap on the 2003 MCAS test did not narrow by as much as state education leaders had touted, according to results that were recalculated to take into account that thousands of students did not note their race on the exam.

The Department of Education was forced to refigure the latest MCAS results this month by race after it found that nearly 11,000 10th-graders and about 27,000 students in other grades tested had neglected to mark their race on the test. Officials had to match those students' scores with their correct racial background, contained in a new database with basic information on all Massachusetts public school students.

The result was slightly poorer performance numbers by race across the board, according to scores presented to the state Board of Education this week. For example, the percentage of black 10th-graders passing the English and math MCAS tests on their first try dropped from 52 percent to 47 percent. The percentage of Hispanic students passing dipped from 44 percent to 42 percent. The share of Asian students passing fell from 80 percent to 77 percent, and the percentage of white students passing slipped from 84 percent to 82 percent.

The new scores mean that black students are separated from white students by 35 points, not 32. The white-Hispanic gap stayed at 40 points, while the white-Asian gap inched up from 4 points to 5 points, state figures show.

Passing the 10th-grade English and math sections of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test became a graduation requirement with the class of 2003. Three weeks ago, when releasing results for the class of 2005, Governor Mitt Romney and Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll hailed the higher scores for minority students.

This week, Department of Education spokeswoman Heidi B. Perlman said the new numbers still look promising. ''The improvement among ethnic groups is still evident among those numbers,'' she said.

But critics of the MCAS test said the state is once again celebrating too early.

''The fact that the gap for blacks has increased is disturbing, and it shows how important it is to be careful about the basic data that we're dealing with and not leap to quickly to feel too self-satisfied about what we have achieved,'' said John Mudd, policy director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

As to why almost 38,000 test-takers did not note their race, officials think that some principals told them they did not have to pick one of the racial categories because that information is in the new student database.

— Anand Vaishnav
Gap on MCAS tests wider than thought
Boston Globe


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