The achievement gap as measured by the high school exit exam has nearly vanished by the time students reach 12th grade, according to data released by the Superintendents' Achievement Gap Task Force at the group's fifth annual news conference.
"We're proud of the achievement of our students and teachers," said County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward, "but the work is not done until every student passes the high school exit exam, and every student is proficient in math and English."
Ward's remarks, before an audience packed with local school superintendents, board members and news personnel, also stressed the importance of holding high expectations for all students. He implored school leaders to maintain the sense of urgency around efforts to eliminate the achievement gap.
Task Force Chair Don Phillips, Superintendent of the Poway Unified School District, explained the data on the exit exam's math portion. In the graduating class of 2006, the first to have diplomas withheld for not passing the exit exam, there was a 25-point gap in the pass rates of white and Asian students on one hand, and African American and Latino on the other, when the students first took the exam as 10th graders.
By the time the class of 2006 was preparing to graduate, the pass-rates of the different groups were only 6 points apart, Phillips reported. And for the class of 2007, the gap was only slightly more than 1 percentage point, he said.
In addition to providing the most recent exit exam data at the news conference, Phillips also announced that the task force would be focusing on several other student performance measures in the future, instead of just the exit exam's math portion. The group will now consider the exit exam's English portion, and the California Standards Tests for grade 3 English, grade 5 math, and both subjects at grade 8.
Phillips explained the reasoning, "In grade 3, students are moving from basic literacy into reading comprehension. In grade 5, students are preparing to begin the critical climb into algebra readiness. In grade 8, the percent proficient or advanced in algebra is the primary gateway to higher levels of mathematics. And in 8th grade English Language Arts, the students are preparing for the transition to high school."
The task force will also take a close look at the number and percentage of students completing A-G course sequence for UC and CSU admission, as well as high school graduation rates, Phillips said.
Phillips, Ward and Encinitas Union School District Trustee Carol Skiljan all stressed the fact that closing the achievement gap is not just a high school challenge, but one that the entire education community must confront.
"Closing the achievement gap is a K-16 issue," Skilljan said, "and as school board members we're pleased to be working in alliance with all the groups represented on the Achievement Gap Task Force---teachers, administrators, and our partners from higher education and the business community."