Report: Black students falling behind peers

Iowa scores especially poorly

Reading proficiency for Iowa’s fourth-graders were among lowest in the nation in Iowa, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report released Thurday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Reading proficiency for Iowa’s fourth-graders were among lowest in the nation in Iowa, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report released Thurday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The nation’s black students are falling behind their peers when it comes to academic achievement and college readiness, according to a report out Thursday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

What’s more, Iowa’s fourth- and eighth-grade black students are struggling when compared to their peers nationally in both reading and math proficiency.

The report — “The Path Forward: Improving Opportunities for African-American Students” — provides an in-depth evaluation of data and analysis of kindergarten to 12th-grade performance of black students across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“We found that African-American achievement is almost strikingly low,” said Michael McShane, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri research and educational think tank, and the author of the report. “In many state, fewer than one-fifth are proficient in reading and math.”

The report looked at a variety of data, including graduation rates, ACT scores and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — periodical assessments conducted in fourth, eighth and 12th grades and administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report finds that while there have been improvements in black student achievement over the past 25 years — graduation rates are up in addition to improved scores on the NAEP — all 50 states have a ways to go to ensure black students are ready for college and a career.

McShane explained that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has put out its Leaders and Laggards Report Card series — a state-by-state kindergarten-through-grade-12 report that measures student achievement in education — for almost a decade.


“A well-educated workforce is foundation for American entrepreneurship and American business success,” he said. The chamber “has a vested interest in high-quality education”

However, this is the first time the chamber looked specifically at black students and how they stack up when compared with the total student population.

The report found that only 18 percent of black fourth-graders were proficient in reading and 19 percent scored as proficient in math. Meanwhile, 16 percent of black eighth-graders were proficient in reading and 13 percent in math.

Those numbers were lower in Iowa — with the state’s fourth-grade reading proficiency among the lowest in the country. According to the report:

• 14 percent of Iowa’s black fourth-graders were proficient in reading

• 18 percent were proficient in math

• 13 percent were proficient in reading

• 8 percent were proficient in math

Furthermore, the report found that there is a clear mismatch between graduate rates and rates of college readiness for black students. Graduation rates for black students range from 84 percent in Texas to 57 percent in Nevada and Oregon.

But ACT scores show that the percentage of black students who are college-ready in all four tested subjects — English, math, reading and science — range from 17 percent in Massachusetts to as low as 3 percent in Mississippi.

The report points out that the there is some discrepancy between these numbers as not all high school graduates plan to go to college.

“But college preparedness rates that equal only one-tenth of the graduation rate seem extreme,” it said.


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About 74 percent of black students graduate from high school in Iowa compared with 90 percent of all of Iowa’s students. Iowa’s graduation rates of black students and all students is higher than the national average of 71 percent and 81 percent, respectively.

In addition, about 10 percent of Iowa’s black students scored as college-ready on the ACT compare with 33 percent of all students in Iowa.

Other key points of the report include:

• Many black students nationwide were gaining access to rigorous classes, but not to the degree they should be. Only two states and Washington, D.C., had more than 40 percent of black students to graduate who took at least one advanced-placement (AP) exam — Washington (47.5 percent), Hawaii (43.7 percent), and Florida (43.6 percent)

• Far too few black students are excelling in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses — Only three states saw more than 5 percent of the black students in their graduating class pass at least one AP STEM exam during high school — Colorado (5.9 percent), Massachusetts (5.4 percent, and Hawaii (5 percent).

The report was released in conjunction with a summit Thursday and Friday that brings in leaders from both the Chamber of Commerce and NAACP, McShane said. Attendees will discuss the findings as well as debate the best way to move forward.

“The purpose of the report is not to be defeatist and not to wallow,” he said, “but rather help with the path forward, how can we improve this?”



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