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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

Breathe. Just take a deep breath. That is all I could do after reviewing data recently reported by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Known as the nation’s report card, NAEP measures the proficiency of the nation’s students on a variety of subjects. This assessment has been done since 1969 and is a congressionally mandated project. It is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

As it relates to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, students in the 4th and 8th grade were assessed in the areas of math and reading. When you breakdown the information, you are immediately struck by the scores reported and the descending subject trajectory of African American students in particular. For example, in the area of math, students could score up to 500 points. Yet, the average score of fourth-grade students tested earlier this year in Milwaukee was 215. The average score for public school students in large cities was 235. Frustratingly enough, that score was down from 221 that Milwaukee scored in six years ago, in 2013.

In the area of reading, our students didn’t fare any better. In 2019, the average score of fourth-grade students in Milwaukee was 190. This was lower than the average score of 212 for public school students in large cities. This score was nine points lower than the 199 score Milwaukee received in 2013. Math and reading scores follow that trend for Black 8th grade students as well.

Once again, the disparities in academic performance widened along racial lines and we are left asking the question….why? We know that there are social determinants that contribute to these gut-wrenching performance numbers. Traditionally, these determinants are talked about it in the context of health.

Things such as housing, access to health care and employment determine your quality of life.

However, we know that there is an intersection between quality of life and education. And as our ancestors believed and tried to stress to their children, education unlocks doors to our overall well-being.

So, we are back to square one. What will it take to positively move the needle for Black students in the district? Of course, we know that there are many variables that we either don’t control or that will take continued time to get under control. But the oft sighted “Serenity Prayer” comes to mind. ““God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” We can change what happens at home for Black children. We can impact early learning before they ever enter a school system. We can commit to doing everything in our power to put our children in the best possible position to succeed. We can create a foundation that supports academic achievement. We just need to take a deep breath, and get started.

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