The achievement gap between white and African-American students in South Carolina public schools mirrors the rest of the nation’s. A federal report indicates that although math and reading test scores have improved for both ethnic groups, the achievment gap has decreased only in math.But fourth grade white students scored 26 points higher than African-American students in math, even though that gap is five points lower than it was in 1992. The national gap was also 26 points difference.
The gap in reading is the same 26 points, but that discrepency has decreased by only one point since 1992.
State Superindentent Jim Rex says it’s an indication of progress. “We’re making some fairly significant progress and shrinking the achievement gap in math. Like the rest of the country, we’ve sort of plateaued out in terms of shrinking the reading gap.”
Overall, South Carolina’s fourth and eighth graders have scored near the national averages in math and slightly below national in reading. In 2007 fourth grade scores,the latest available, South Carolina fourth graders ranked 33rd in the nation in math and 42nd in reading. South Carolina eighth graders ranked 28th in math and 41st in reading.
Contrary to the myths about the difficulty of math subjects, Rex says reading remains a tough problem. He says poverty has a pronounced affect on literacy, more so than other subjects. “For instance, when a child comes from an environment of deprivation into Kindergarten, he or she may only have a vocabulary of 500 to 700 words, compared to a child from a middle class family, which may come in with a vocabularly of 1500 to 2000 words. That’s a tremendous difference.”
Rex says there is only a little consolation in knowing that South Carolina’s literacy gap is no worst than average. “That’s not nearly good enough. It’s holding us back as a nation, it’s holding us back as a state. We’ve got to find a way to help children, especially those in poverty, to succeed. We’re making progress but it’s not really fast enough to satisfy me, and shouldn’t be fast enough to satisfy anyone.”
Rex says reading scores have not imporved at the same rate as math scores and a new statewide literacy initiative will aim to change that. Its goal will be to make reading the responsibiltiy of all teachers in all subject areas, not just the reading and English teachers.