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Arkansas scores show narrowing of gap between blacks, whites


For the first time, this year’s scores on state standardized tests show a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and black students in Arkansas, while Hispanic students trailed.

Education Commissioner Ken James said Thursday that scores on the Arkansas Benchmark exams improved this year, while performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills remained stable compared to last year’s scores. Scores on End of Course exams in algebra and geometry dropped.

James noted that, in most instances, the gap in Benchmark scores between black students and white students narrowed for the first time.

“Not only did the gap narrow, but it narrowed at the same time that African-American achievement increased across the board,” James said. “We’re pleased with that substantial growth in particular areas.”

Benchmark results fall in four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

In third-grade math, the gap in proficient and advanced scores between blacks and whites narrowed from 33 percent last year to 27 percent this year. The gap in third-grade literacy scores narrowed from 29 percent last year to 23 percent.

While the gap was narrowing between blacks and whites, James noted the state witnessed a widening in the difference between the scores of Hispanics and whites.

For example, the gap in proficient and advanced scores between Hispanics and whites on the fourth-grade mathematics benchmark exams grew from 11 percent last year to 19 percent this year. The literacy test score gap in the same category grew from 17 percent last year to 23 percent this year.

James said much of the gap for Hispanic students was because of federal rules requiring many students with limited English skills to take the regular Benchmark exam, rather than alternatives that provided more assistance in translation from their native languages.

Overall, benchmark exam scores generally improved over the past year. The percentage of third-graders scoring proficient and advanced on math scores increased from 67 percent last year to 74 percent this year. In third-grade literacy, the percentage increased from 57 percent last year to 59 percent this year.

There were some decreases, though. The percentage of fourth-graders scoring proficient and advanced on the literacy benchmarks dropped from 61 percent last year to 59 percent this year. The percentage of eigth-graders performing at that level on literacy benchmarks also dropped from 66 percent to 63 percent.

In Arkansas, about 343,000 students took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, while about 36,700 students took the algebra End of Course tests and about 32,000 took the geometry tests. More than 207,000 students took the benchmark tests.

On the Iowa Test, composite scores ranged from the 48th percentile in the ninth grade to the 62nd percentile in the fourth grade. A student scoring at the 50th percentile performed better than half of his counterparts nationwide.

The percentage of students performing proficient or above in the End of Course exams for algebra dropped from 65 percent last year to 61 percent this year. For End of Course geometry exams, that number dropped from 60 percent to 59 percent.

The percentage of 11th graders scoring proficient or above in literacy End of Course exams rose from 45 percent last year to 51 percent this year.

The state is developing an “augmented” test that will combine the benchmark exams with the Iowa Test in an attempt to cut down the amount of time spent preparing for the separate tests. James said the combined test, which will be used next spring, will help speed up the amount of time before test results are released.

–Associated Press

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