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Ethnic gap in learning remains

Mirror staff

Minority students in Federal Way Public Schools still face an "achievement gap" despite general improvement in standardized test scores the past three years.

The district reported ninth-grade students have improved in the Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED), including jumps of eight points in reading by Hispanics and seven points by blacks between 2001 and 2002.

Ninth-graders overall gained four points in ITED reading scores and were three points better than the statewide average last year. Federal Way's minority students are also making headway, although all but one of their groups recorded in the ITED results were well below the district's ninth-grade score as a whole.

The district score was 57. Asian/Pacific Islanders were at 58, followed by American Indians at 41, blacks at 38 and Hispanics at 36.

Whites were at 63.

The "achievement gap" remains a concern, district officials said.

The district established its Office of Equity and Achievement in May 2001 after a report on disparities in student achievement by demographic groups. A citizens' task force subsequently studied the gap, commonly attributed to poverty, instability in living arrangements, cultural barriers and lack of parental involvement in students' learning.

The district, which is emphasizing literacy among all students, noted that ITED reading scores by ethnic groups generally rose steadily over the past three years and exceeded the state averages in 2002. The exception to the district reading gains was in the American Indian/Alaskan Native group.

Pat Cummings, assessment director, said the district's small number of Native American pupils (16 took the ITED test last school year) can produce large swings in test averages.

Trise Moore, chairwoman of the city of Federal Way Diversity Commission, commended parents and teachers “for the part they've played in helping students achieve the 7 percent increase” in test scores for blacks. “When you consider how much farther there is to go, it may not seem like much, but every little bit helps.”

Moore said she’s interested in “what the next step should be for encouraging increases in improvement” among American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

The higher test scores ”is a good start and a great reminder that improvement is not only necessary but possible," she said.

Last spring in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, another standardized test taken by third and sixth-grade students in Washington, gains in Federal Way were made by ethnic groups that hadn't performed well in past years. Federal Way's sixth-grade Hispanics and blacks in both grades showed positive trends.

The School Board credited the district's equity and achievement program for helping improve ITED scores.

Superintendent Tom Murphy has said that the roots of disparate scores for minorities can be traced partially to students' homes and the community.

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