The most recent round of testing in the state of California has revealed a disturbing statistic: Three out of 4 black boys failed to meet the reading and writing requirements, and more than half of them scored in the lowest category on the English portion of the test.
CALmatters analyzed data obtained from the California Department of Education and found that not only are black boys trailing behind black girls, but there is a persistent gender gap in reading and writing scores that “stretches across ethnic groups.”
The state of California publishes separate figures on the performance of various ethnic and economic groups, but it does not make public a detailed breakdown of how girls and boys are performing within those groups because of the complexity, cost and time constraints involved in doing so.
CALmatters breaks the data down in a way that shows how gender interacts with race and class in the mastery of basic reading, writing and listening skills that are tested on state exams.
There has been a focus on encouraging girls to learn math and science, and that is reflected in the fact that girls have caught up to boys in math, but girls maintain a sizable lead over boys in the language arts, indicating that the gender reading gap is considered less of a problem and not warranting action.
“I wouldn’t put this in the same category of severity or concern as other achievement gaps,” Tom Loveless, an education researcher for the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., told CALmatters. “But there needs to be greater awareness of this.”
According to CALmatters, that gender gap spans all grade levels, and a higher family income does not seem to even things out.
The study also found that the gender gap is not unique to California; in states that administer the same standardized tests as California, girls outperform boys by similar margins.
This phenomenon is troublesome, CALmatters finds, because it can compound other educational disparities that California has been trying to fix, unsuccessfully.
“If boys don’t read as well as girls, and if that persists all the way through K-12, it means when you reach certain thresholds like college, it places the males at a disadvantage,” Loveless said. “The ability to read well has a lot to do with the ability to get into college and the ability to do well while you’re in college.”
Black boys are already more likely to be suspended and to drop out of school than other demographics in California and elsewhere, so the reading data adds on to an already troubling set of statistics plaguing black boys in school.
The data shows that by fourth grade, nearly 80 percent of black boys failed to meet state reading standards, and of all the data collected by the state, black boys trailed black girls by the widest margin.
“Part of this may be structural, in having texts that aren’t relevant to the experiences and legacy of African-American boys,” Chris Chatmon, founding executive director of the African-American Male Achievement program at the Oakland Unified School District, told CALmatters. “When a lot of the curriculum you have access to isn’t familiar, or doesn’t acknowledge your past or your present, you have a tendency not to be engaged with it or want to read it.”
One thing the state does not do with its data is make sure it is easy to identify schools where black boys are performing well and schools that are struggling.
“The state should report this data,” Ryan Smith, executive director of the education-reform-advocacy group Ed Trust-West, said to CALmatters via email. “One of the consistent things we find in our research is that schools and districts closing gaps for students of color tend to do more with data, not less.”
According to CALmatters, the California Department of Education is “noncommittal on whether the gender reading gap is worthy of the administration’s attention,” because “differences between boys and girls still pale in comparison to differences found by race, ethnicity and class.”
“There have often been gender gaps in performance,” a department spokesman said to CALmatters by email. “These gaps show up in different ways depending on what is being measured. ... Some gender gaps are more noticeable within certain race/ethnicities.”
Read more at CALmatters.