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Race and income impact school test scores

by Yasmin Tara Rammohan
June 06, 2007


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Yasmin Tara Rammohan/ Medill

Total enrollment of CPS students in 2005-06: 420,982

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Yasmin Tara Rammohan/ Medill

Total enrollment of Illinois students in 2005-06: 2,075,277

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Yasmin Tara Rammohan/ Medill

Total number of students in Chicago Public Schools with PSAE scores in 2006: approximately 54,000

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Yasmin Tara Rammohan/ Medill

Total number of students in Illinois with PSAE scores in 2006: 126,200

What is the correlation between test scores and racial demographics in Illinois high schools?

The results of a study of recent tests show that minority students tend to have lower test scores than white students. 

In a study of standardized test scores for the 2005-06 school year, the results indicate that where there is a larger minority population-- such as in the Chicago Public Schools system--test results tend to be significantly lower than  the same results throughout the state, where there is a majority white population.

Race and income both are factors

This disparity indicates cultural biases in standardized testing as well as an economic effect: high-income students tend to perform better than low-income students.

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for a Responsible Education, said the disproportion could be attributed to the fact that African-Americans and Latinos score lower on standardized tests due to cultural biases.

“But an even stronger determination of test scores is economics, and look at the difference between Chicago, with 86% low-income students versus the state with 40% low-income students,” Woestehoff said.

Details of the test
The Prairie State Achievement Examination is a test that all public high school students must take in eleventh grade.

The PSAE assesses the progress of high schools and individual students on meeting the Illinois Learning Standards. These standards are descriptions of specific skills and knowledge that students should learn in Illinois public schools.

Students take the test over two days in April. Beginning this year, the test includes sections on reading, math, science and writing. In previous years, writing was not included on the PSAE test.

Findings: Race and PSAE scores
The Chicago Public School system is predominantly African-American, with a 48.6% population. Latinos make up a close second with 37.6%. The white population is significantly lower at 8.1%, with Asians following at 3.2%.

The Illinois state report card reveals a much different racial demographic than Chicago. Whites are the majority with 55.7%; African-Americans come in second with 19.9%. Latinos round out third at 18.7% with Asians following at 3.8%.

An analysis of PSAE scores between CPS and Illinois state schools as a whole depicts the discrepancy between the percentage of students who meet or exceed state standards.

In reading, math and science for the state of Illinois, students who met or exceeded state standards were 58.4%, 53.6% and 50.8% respectively. The results for CPS in the same three subjects were 39.2%, 30.2% and 24.3% respectively.

The results of this analysis show that test scores are largely impacted by race.

“To what extent are we accurately assessing students of color in terms of aptitude, learning and achievement?” asked Stafford Hood, professor of psychology in education at Arizona State University.

What the results actually mean is a far more difficult question to answer.

“If we knew the answer to what these results mean, we’d be able to easily address some of the classroom issues revolving around race,” said CPS spokesman Malon Edwards.