Friday, October 21, 2005

Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Er...

The National Assessment of Educational Progress was released the other day, and Minnesota once again proved to be ahead of the pack as far as achievement goes, ranking in the top 5 in both reading and math. I'm sure Armstrong Williams, sipping Chardonnay in his bathtub full of taxpayer money, is delighted that "No Child Left Behind is working". Not so fast, propoganda man. As the Daily Howler notes, the real gains nationwide are minimal, if any. In fact, though Minnesota ranked highly in both reading and math, the percentage of 8th graders passing the math test actually dropped 3 percentage points, from 82 to 79. This drop knocked us off our 1st place perch and down to a lowly 5th. Still, Minnesota did achieve at a very high level.

Well, most of Minnesota. As the Strib and the PiPress report, the achievement gap between white and minority students has widened since the last test, in 2003.

Now, here at the PeP we like to keep things rational. We could go all Bell Curve, a la Andrew Sullivan. It's the kiddies fault--well, not their fault, but their genetics. But that's probably not the reason.

So...um...what is the reason? Is there a reason for this large achievement gap in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? It's my duty, I suppose to provide a couple of semi-lucid explanations, though I plan to get throughly thrashed once the critical thinkers come out of hiding.

Explanation 1: The large influx of non-English speaking immigrants has created a language gap that is hard to surmount, especially on a standardized test. Instruction is focused more upon bringing English speaking skills up to par than getting students ready to take standardized tests with long reading passages (check the copyright on the passage...spooky and conspiracy-tastic).

Explanation 2: The minority population of Minnesota, for the most part, is concentrated in the Twin Cities Metro Area. This area is also home to some of the poorest schools in the state. As is often the case, lower-income students are also lower-achieving, and this test is no exception.

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