Race Still a Factor In Student Success
In his Dec. 31 column entitled “Deal With The Real Challenge,” the executive editor of this newspaper, Mike Myer, actually made the argument that it was time for West Virginia to stop worrying about the achievement gap between black and white students in our public schools because the problem no longer exists. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth. Mr. Myer only compared the relatively equal graduation rates of blacks and whites in West Virginia and concluded that the problem had been solved. Never mind that graduating from high school represents the bare minimum of academic achievement. A student’s grade point average is not included on the diploma, and a GPA of 1.5, 2.5 or 3.5 gets you the same piece of paper.
Mr. Myer than makes the demonstrably wrong statement that “(s)imilar results can be found in other measures of achievement, such as standardized tests.” This is truly fake news; the most recent proficiency results tell a vastly different story. Statewide in reading white students have a 48 percent proficiency rate, and black students are at 32 percent while, interestingly, Asian students are at 73 percent. In math the proficiency rates reveal a similar gap: whites — 35 percent, blacks — 20 percent, and Asians 69 percent. You don’t even want to know the achievement gap in science; let’s just say it’s high. The numbers for both black and white students are shockingly low but clearly reveal an achievement gap which West Virginia’s graduation rate masks.
The achievement gap in Ohio County Schools is even worse than the statewide numbers. In reading, white students have a 59 percent proficiency rate while black students are at 39 percent. In math, 45 percent of white students are proficient compared to 23 percent of black students. Just 10 percent of 11th grade African-American students at Wheeling Park High School were proficient in math, and only 9 percent of black fifth grade students in all of Ohio County Schools were proficient in science.
Obviously, socio-economic factors play a large role in these numbers, and it is not necessarily completely fair to lay the blame for this achievement gap solely on our schools. Studies show that black and white students from similar environments have relatively equal achievement. Only 8 percent of African-American students in two parent homes live below the poverty line compared to the 11 percent national average. However, Mr. Myer’s premise that there is no racial achievement gap in West Virginia doesn’t hold water. I agree with Mr. Myer that economic factors play a larger role in the achievement gap than race, but economics don’t tell the whole story. The social factors in socio-economic are equally and perhaps more important in predicting academic achievement.