Call it state pride. But when the fight between Connecticut (where District Administration is based) and the federal Department of Education started, at least one argument got my attention.
As you probably know by now, Connecticut's Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg asked U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for waivers in six areas of NCLB's accountability plan, most notably the requirement that all students be tested annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. A month later, Spellings rejected Sternberg's request.
In April, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that he was readying a lawsuit against the law, saying No Child was illegal and that it unconstitutionally requires states and communities to spend millions of dollars not provided by the federal government to create the tests needed.
In the midst of the debate, Spellings wrote an op-ed piece for the state's major newspaper, The Hartford Courant. In this commentary, she wrote that the gap between whites and blacks in fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests stood at 37 points.
This got my attention, because that gap is much larger than the national average, which is 27 points.
I decided to compare the NAEP scores and gaps between Connecticut and Texas. (I choose Texas because this state is involved in its own dispute with the federal government about No Child Left Behind. I was going to contrast Connecticut with Utah, a state with a more serious dispute with the law, but Utah doesn't have enough black students taking NAEP tests to allow for a reliable estimate, according to NAEP's guidelines.)
What I found was that Texas has lessened the gap between blacks and whites taking the fourth-grade reading test, but that might not be the good news it appears to be (see chart).
So why isn't this necessarily good news in Texas? Because part of the way the state has closed the gap is by having its white students do worse on the test. The number of white students who scored proficient on NAEP's fourth-grade reading test plunged from 44 percent in 2002 to 39 percent in 2003. In the same period, the number of black students in Texas proficient on this test rose from 14 percent to 16 percent.
In Connecticut, proficient white students rose from 52 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2003, while proficient black students dropped from 17 percent in 2002 to 12 percent in 2003.
Overall, Connecticut's fourth-grade reading scores on NAEP were tied for first in the country with four jurisdictions, and better than 48 other jurisdictions. (NAEP reports results for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and both the domestic and overseas Department of Defense schools.) Texas' scores in the fourth-grade reading test were higher than just nine jurisdictions, and lower than 33 jurisdictions.
So what does this all prove? It still points out a large achievement gap in Connecticut, which Sternberg has acknowledged, and said she will continue to work to remedy. But it also proves two important points. Progress can be gained if one group of students goes backward, and that lessening the achievement between whites and blacks is harder when your state's scores are some of the highest in the country.