–Gaps in academic achievement between white and Asian students and Black and Hispanic students exist across King County
–There is little relationship between gaps and the overall achievement of a district
Gaps persist in test outcomes among students of different racial backgrounds across King County
Washington schools use the Smarter Balanced Assessment tool for most student testing. (Some students with special needs are given an alternative test.) Students are evaluated using a one to four scale, with scores of three and four considered to be “meeting standards.”
Figure 1 shows the rate of meeting the English Language standard for White and Asian students and for Black and Hispanic students. It shows the achievement gap in two ways. The black dot is the raw gap, simply the high score minus the low score. The red dot shows the raw gap as a percentage of the higher score. Figure 2 show the same measures for the Math portion of the test.
Note that the achievement gaps vary widely across the county. The raw gap ranges from a high of a 38 percentage point difference to a low of a 12 percentage point difference in the English test, and a high of a 44 percentage point difference to a low of a 14 percentage point difference on the Math test. Variation between the groups as a percentage ranges from a high of 48 to a low of 14 for English, and a high of 59 and a low of 17 for math.
The math gap is noteworthy in that for seven districts the Black/Hispanic achievement level was more than 50 percent below the White/Hispanic score. And this was the case countywide.
Also note that there is no strong geographic pattern, with both large and small gaps in all parts of the county. The largest achievement gap in the language test occurred in the Seattle School District, with the Bellevue district not far behind.
Weak relationship of Gap to overall performance
Social scientists have been interested in the question of whether moving poor and minority students out of poor neighborhoods and into more prosperous neighborhoods would improve academic outcomes. Early evaluations of the Moving to Opportunity program suggested that this strategy was not successful, but more recent evaluations indicate that it does work.
One way to look at that question would be to see if achievement gaps are smaller in areas that are, overall, higher achieving. In other words, do test outcomes of historically underserved populations move closer to historically advantaged populations when placed in a more advantaged environment?
Figure 3 shows the relationship between the percentage achievement gap in each district in King County, and the achievement of that district for all students (based on the English test). Figure 3 shows some relationship, indicating that the gaps are smaller in high-achieving districts. The R-squared value of 0.28 rises to 0.34 when one outlier district is removed. This same analysis, using the raw achievement gap, shows no relationship at all between the raw gap and the overall achievement of a district.
Academic achievement gaps exist between white and Asian students on one hand, and Black and Hispanic students on the other hand. These gaps exist in all parts of King County, and there is only a weak correlation between achievement gaps and overall achievement levels in a district.
Questions going forward are:
- Will persistently poor outcomes in certain districts make them unattractive to families that have choices of where to move, locking in unfavorable demographics?
- Will the region attempt strategies based on the “Moving to Opportunity” concept that encourage relocation of families to higher performing areas?