Fueling the debate over whether recent toughening of standards in California has helped or hurt low-achieving, predominantly minority schools, a new study released Wednesday says black and Latino dropout rates have risen and that the substantial achievement gap between minority and white pupils has not improved since schools began the changes four years ago.
The Achievement Council, a nonprofit Oakland-based group concerned with minority education issues, analyzed results of the California Assessment Program test of academic skills from 1983 to 1987, as well as information on graduation rates and course enrollments, to find out how minority students fared during a period of intense statewide activity to upgrade public schools.
Using attrition data, which contrasts the number of students who enter a school at the 10th grade and the number who graduate three years later, the study found that dropout rates for all groups have increased since 1984, but particularly for black students.
The dropout rate for both Latinos and blacks was 43% in 1984, but increased to 45% for Latinos and 48% for blacks in 1987.
The white dropout rate rose to 27% from 25%, while the Asian dropout rate increased from 15% to 17%.
In addition, the study found that although the test scores of all groups of students improved between 1983 and 1987, minority student scores did not rise enough to reduce the gap between predominantly minority and predominantly white schools.
Latino and black students were found to be performing about six months behind white students at the third grade, for example, and a full year behind at the sixth grade. By the eighth grade, black and Latino youngsters averaged about two years behind whites, and by 12th grade, they lagged three years behind.
Asian students were found to score similar to or better than whites at all grade levels except for 12th grade, where their reading scores were as low as those of Latinos and blacks.
Kati Haycock, executive director of the Achievement Council, said these results did not mean that minority students are less capable than white students, but that more attention should be given to the quality of the schools they attend. Inner-city schools often are staffed by teachers who are inexperienced or teaching out of their fields, offer courses that are watered down, or have low expectations for students.
"Education is a cumulative process," she said. "When you start out somewhat behind and then have teachers teach down to them, the gap simply gets worse over time."
Haycock said some predominantly minority schools that have broken out of the pattern of chronically low achievement and made significant academic progress appear to share several common traits, including strong principals, demanding teachers, academically rigorous core courses and active parent involvement.
Among schools the report singled out for praise were nine in Los Angeles County: Albion Street Elementary, Queen Anne Place Elementary, Lorena Street Elementary, Melrose Avenue Elementary, Playa del Rey Elementary, Toluca Lake Elementary, Bell High, Crenshaw High and Washington High in the Los Angeles school district.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who has led the state's efforts since 1983 to toughen graduation requirements and upgrade courses and textbooks, said he agreed with the report's findings.
"The gap (between minority and white students) hasn't changed. Those schools are not where we need them to be. But you can't say there has been no progress. There has been some, but there's still a huge gap."