As reading scores climb overall, gap persists

As reading scores climb overall, gap persists

(Calif.) Despite higher reading scores in classrooms across the nation, the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic youth has seen very little improvement according to a report released last week by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that monitors how children and teens use media.

The report, “Children, Teens, and Reading: A Common Sense Media Research Briefing,” compiled and analyzed data from other studies.  It included data on children’s frequency of reading and the amount of time spent reading, and how those aspects differed among children of different ethnicities, genders and income levels over time.

“Minorities started out so far behind white youth, and there hasn’t been enough improvement in that group of students to be able to reduce the gap,” author of the report, Victoria Rideout told Cabinet Report. “Everybody has moved slightly ahead, but there hasn’t been the kind of focused effort required to address that gap and bring more of the minority youth up to proficiency.”

Numerous studies conclude that early reading proficiency has a ripple effect and is a key aspect of success later in life, including graduation rates. A severe enough achievement gap seen early on has the potential to become a much bigger problem for both the students who aren’t reaching proficiency and the administrators in charge of making sure kids are graduating.

The frequency and amount of time spent reading and how it correlated to the achievement gap between ethnicities were a focus in the research compiled in Rideout’s “Children, Teens, and Reading.”

One of the studies highlighted in her report is from 2006 where Hispanic children were found to spend an average of 15 minutes less per day reading than black children and 20 minutes less white children. Similar reading rates were found in other studies cited in the report.

Also included was a study which found a 22 percentage-point difference in the proportion of white and Hispanic children through 8-years-old who read or are read to on a daily basis, and a 19 percentage-point difference between white and black children.

“In the U.S., white students score substantially higher on reading literacy tests than black or Hispanic students,” the report reads. “According to (the National Center for Education Statistics) data, ‘White students continued to score 21 or more points higher on average than black and Hispanic students in 2012.’”

That’s a difference of about two grade levels.

“There is a substantial gap between white and black students and white and Hispanic students in the percent who are rated as proficient in reading at either the fourth or eighth grade levels,” the report continues. “However, looking at the data by average numerical score on the reading achievement test (instead of by category of proficiency), NCES data indicate that the achievement gap has been narrowing steadily (albeit modestly) during the past 40 years.”

Schools have begun to take notice of these gaps and are taking active steps in alleviating the problem. A K-4 environmental magnet school in Minnesota saw large achievement gaps among its Hispanic students, particularly in reading. The school revamped its reading programs and as a result, the achievement gaps - especially among Hispanic students - closed significantly in 2013.

In the District of Columbia, a middle school’s shifted focus to teaching based on the Common Core has seen school-wide proficiency rates improve. According to Ed Week, “the proficiency rate on the DC CAS in English/language arts rose from 59 percent in 2012 to 64 percent, with even brisker growth among black students and those from low-income families.”

With more schools looking for ways to both improve reading proficiency and close the gap between white and minority students, there’s a chance that achievement gap may start closing much faster.

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