Economic Disparity Seen In Student Test Results

Results show poorer performance by neediest pupils

Highlighting the vast gap between rich and poor — and the difficulty politicians and educators will have closing it — California’s neediest children again scored far worse than wealthier kids on the state achievement test.

The results, to be released today, show the performance of specific groups on the Stanford 9 test of reading, math, spelling and other subjects, taken by 4 million students last spring.

“The battle is to close the gap over time,” said John Mockler, Gov. Gray Davis’ newly appointed secretary for education. “A lot more is needed, but we know the ingredients: clear standards, appropriate instructional materials and well-trained teachers.”

Last month, the state released the overall scores for schools, districts and the state. Students in grades 2 through 11 took the test.

Today, the state will release results of specific groups: boys, girls, English speakers, English learners, students in special education, low- income students and those with higher income.

Students poor enough to qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch posted reading scores in the 20s and 30s on the 100-point exam, and math scores in the 30s and 40s. Low- income students accounted for 46 percent of all test-takers in the state.

By contrast, scores of students who did not qualify for those programs hovered in the 60-point range for reading, and in the 60s and 70s in math.

Testing experts said the reasons for the huge disparity begin at home — but do not stop there.

“They go back to level of prenatal care a mother may have received, participation in preschool, being taken to museums and the number of books in the home,” said Linda Lownes of the state Department of Education, which provided the report.

“There are also the school factors — we have large numbers of emergency credentialed teachers in inner-city schools with higher poverty levels,” said Lownes.

Recent studies show that throughout California, inexperienced teachers are far more likely to work in schools with needy children than at middle-class schools.

The governor’s efforts to tackle the problem include a $677 million program of rewards for schools that improve according to a certain formula. In addition, said Mockler, Davis wants to attract experienced teachers to low-performing schools through programs that pay for housing and forgive college loans.

Meanwhile, the new report also showed that girls generally outperformed boys on the test, and — in a result that should surprise no one — students who speak English scored far higher than those who do not. State law requires testing all students in English, whether they speak the language or not.

“California students who are proficient in English continue to score above the national average in almost all subjects and grade levels,” said state Superintendent Delaine Eastin.

That statement was an important reminder in a state that has seen the reputation of its public school system steadily decline in the past two decades.

The report showed that when English learners were held out of the data, reading scores generally rose above the national average score of 50. In some grades, math scores rose into the 60s.

English learners generally scored in the teens and 20s in reading, and in the 20s through 40s in math.

In most grades, girls outscored boys in reading, math, language and spelling. Boys generally outperformed girls in science and history.

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