Closing the Gap

W.Va. making some educational progress

NAACP leaders are right to be worried about how well West Virginia’s public schools are educating black students. On average, their performance academically lags badly behind that of white children.

But for a change, the Mountain State seems to be doing better than many other states in closing the achievement gap. That is reason for very guarded optimism.

Look at the numbers from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is one of the few standardized testing programs that allows comparisons of West Virginia students with their peers in many other states:

National numbers for high school seniors on the NAEP mathematics tests show average scores of 160 for white students and 130 for black students, a gap of 30 points.

But in West Virginia, white students had average scores of 145, with black students at 133 — a far narrower gap, at 12 points.

And notice this: While Mountain State white 12th graders scored below the national average, their black classmates were above it.

In other NAEP testing for other subjects and other grade levels, similar results can be seen. Achievement gaps between black and white youngsters in our state are dramatically smaller than in most other states.

Still, there is a very substantial gap here, and that is cause for concern — and a mandate for improvement.

A resolution adopted by delegates to the NAACP state convention earlier this month lists several worrisome factors. Among them is “an alarming disproportionate percentage of African American student suspension & expulsion as compared with Caucasian students …” That, too, is a factor often cited in many other states.

It appears the situation does not involve confrontation with public school officials but, rather, cooperation. As the NAACP resolution noted, state leaders of the organization already have consulted both state school officials and some county school superintendents regarding concerns about minority students. The resolution calls for “continuing engagement” to address problems such as achievement and discipline.

West Virginia’s public schools are in need of dramatic improvement if our children — all of them — are to compete with their peers from many other states and, yes, nations. The racial achievement gap represents a need for reform within reform.

Though discredited as a national education reform strategy, a plan adopted a few years ago for the nation should serve as a standard for ensuring all children, of every race and background, are prepared for success:

No child left behind.