Supplemental: Breaking news from the Washington Post!

MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2015

Concerning black kids’ math scores:
Saturday morning’s front-page report brought us right out of our chairs.

Lyndsey Layton reported a strange proposal. Twenty civil rights organizations want to establish a child’s constitutional right to annual standardized testing.

We aren’t constitutional scholars ourselves, but that sounds fairly wacky. Beyond that, we thought Layton did the usual fuzzy job reporting the objections some experts were raising to something or other, apparently to the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

(Everything Professor Orfield said was true. But what did his comments have to do with that use of test scores?)

Whatever! Even as Layton was creating confusion in several parts of her report, Danielle Paquette was butchering this news report about the gender income gap, misapplying that “78 cents on the dollar” statistic.

But then, what else is new? Again and again, this is what happens when big newspapers work with basic statistics.

Mistakes were made! That said, breaking news seemed to emerge in Layton’s front-page report:

Breaking! The Washington Post is aware, at least in general terms, of the rise in black kids’ math scores! We can’t swear this was ever entirely clear before this.

It’s very hard to get big newspapers to report or analyze such encouraging facts. Major elites of the right, the left and the corporate world all seem to have a stake in saying our public schools stink.

(The corporate elite and the right want to push for privatization. The left wants to push for additional funding.)

Perhaps for this reason, newspapers like the Post have broken their backs, down through the years, to keep the public from hearing about the substantial score gains in reading and math which have been achieved by black and Hispanic kids.

On Saturday, Layton let the news slip, albeit in dampened form. This passage appeared about halfway through her report. Katie Haycock is president of The Education Trust, a major advocacy group:
LAYTON (4/11/15): Haycock credits annual testing and No Child Left Behind with a modest rise in math scores among black and Hispanic students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered by the federal government across the country every two years.

“The suggestion that No Child Left Behind destroyed American education is absolutely not borne out,” Haycock said at a gathering of the country’s top state education officials two weeks ago.

But black and Hispanic students made even greater gains on the NAEP before No Child Left Behind took effect.
Say what? If we’re reading that passage correctly, black and Hispanic kids have recorded “a modest rise” in math scores on the NAEP over the past dozen years. And they made even greater score gains in the years before that!

To us, that seems like a breakthrough. The public almost never hear about the constant score gains American kids have recorded on the NAEP, the federal program everyone regards as the “gold standard” of educational testing.

As we’ve told you again and again, our big newspapers will always note the gap in scores between white and black kids on the NAEP. But they devoutly avoid reporting the gains these groups have been recording.

On Saturday, Layton acknowledged the gains by black and Hispanic kids! To our ear, even that throwaway passage had the feel of a breakthrough in Post reporting.

By the way: Does it sound like the score gains in math may be fairly substantial? According to Layton, black kids have made “modest” gains in the past dozen years, tacked on to larger gains in the years before that!

To us, it sounds like the overall gains might be fairly substantial. At some point, wouldn’t a newspaper like the Post want to do a full-blown report about the size of these gains?

Not likely! Tomorrow, we’ll show you what the score gains in Grade 8 math actually look like, dating to 1990. To us, the pattern of gains is a bit hard to square with Layton’s description.

We don’t know why Layton reported these gains in the way she did. But we’re going to guess that the Washington Post has no current plans to tell its readers about this important topic. Neither does the New York Times.

Here in Baltimore, we see terrific kids every day. Our big papers seem to love to deny these kids their due.

Have you ever heard a peep of protest from our fiery “liberal” leaders? Tomorrow, we’ll compare black kids’ gains in Grade 8 math to Layton’s somewhat grudging description.


  1. At some point, wouldn’t a blog like the Howler want to do a full-blown report about the test results on the LTT test and both NAEP tests at all three grade and age levels?

    Not likely!

    Have you ever seen anyone Somerby has screamed at from his "Lawn" bother to respond other than the amazing Ms. Ripley

    1. In the upper grades, you get into possible differences in aptitude between groups that could explain part, perhaps most of a disparity. If that is the case, there is nothing wrong with attention to the lower grade scores and not the other age and grade levels.

    2. In other words, since the end results directly contradict Somerby's narrative of wonderful gains, let's simply pretend they are unimportant and ignore them.

    3. Potential not met in the upper grades does not necessarily diminish the importance of potential met in the lower grades.

    4. Yes, 7:37.

      But also, troll at 5:27, it isn't Somerby's narrative of wonderful gains.

      It's Somerby's narrative of the press ignoring the gains (which, whether you want to call them wonderful or not, do exist).

      Further, troll of 2:00, Somerby ringing the bell on the press' failures (as he sees them, and in this case I agree) does not obligate him to "do a full-blown report."

      Why is it so hard to accept: Somerby has a good point here; the press generally do fail to report trends in education for minority kids.

    5. I have no idea from reading this blog what "the press" generally fails to do. I got a pretty good idea that Somerby reads the NYT, the Washington Post, Salon and MSNBC, but reading this blog, I don't get a really clear picture of the rest of the "press."

      I also know that when one of the few sources he does seem to read regularly does outstanding work, he'll continue to press his narrative of an utterly useless press corps.

      Look at the way the Post exposed Rolling Stone. What's Bob's take on that? "The guild protecting the guild."

  2. Note to casual readers of this blog: We aren’t constitutional scholars ourselves, but beyond that, wacky fuzzy thoughts and something or other. Whatever! But then, what else is new? Tomorrow we'll recap test scores even older than the War on Gore!

    1. And some doubt: we just don't care about the kids.

      Thanks for the demonstration, 2:15!!

    2. I think the only demonstration was that you equate liking Somerby to liking kids..

  3. "Lyndsey Layton reported a strange proposal. Twenty civil rights organizations want to establish a child’s constitutional right to annual standardized testing."

    Comforted on his sprawling campus by analysts who cry over every column, viewing a cultural collapse that few others see, Bob Somerby now writes about a proposal that has not been made.

    It is not just "wacky," Somerby. The proposal for a "constitutional right" is nonexistent. And not reported by Lyndsey Layton for that matter.


    "(Everything Professor Orfield said was true. But what did his comments have to do with that use of test scores?)

    Whatever! Even as Layton was creating confusion in several parts of her report, Danielle Paquette was butchering this news report about the gender income gap, misapplying that “78 cents on the dollar” statistic."

    I suspect Orfield's comments had more to do with "that use of test scores" than Bob Somerby's attack on an unrelated blog post on the wage gap had to do with an article on test scores.

    1. Ah, come on! Confusing test score reports and butchered gender income gap blog posts are two of Boxcar Bob's Greatest Hits!

      You don't expect him to stop playing them, do you?

    2. All of the above have to do with misreporting and the failure of journalists to understand or explain statistics, all of which are relevant topics for this blog in every post.

      It's a mystery why you're troubled by exposure of bogus statistics, wherever you read it. It's almost as if you prefer false narratives.

    3. It's a mystery why you're not trouble by Somerby conflating a civil right, as reported, with a constitutional right.

      That's at least as egregious and dishonest as the alleged "misreporting: of test scores and gender wage gaps.

  5. Bob said the proposal was to make standardized tests a Constitutional right. Actually, the article said that the proposal was to make them a civil right. Although many civil rights are also Constitutional rights, some are not.

    1. One would think it would take an act of Congress, requiring two-thirds majorities of both houses, and ratification by three-fourths of the states to make standardized testing a Constitutional right.

      Or a Constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states, which has never been done.

    2. David in Cal: you might want to take a gander at 3:23 PM's comment made over an hour before yours.

  6. Another day of posts proving, where Bob's readers are concerned, they'd rather talk about blacks getting shot dead than tested in math.

    1. Who cares about arguing with KZ?

  7. I don't understand why liberal media, ex. MSNBC, doesn't talk up the improved black and Hispanic test scores of recent years. The establishment of public education in this country is after all a crowning LIBERAL achievement. Defend it for chrissakes.

    1. Despite dramatic upticks in overall student achievement in recent years, the achievement gap between white and minority high school students remains wide and steady.

      The academic performance of the nation’s 12th graders in math and reading has not changed since 2009, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which on Wednesday released The Nation’s Report Card on America’s high school seniors. But the white-black gap in math and reading scores in 2013 was 30 points, the latter of which grew five points since 1992.

      The white-Hispanic gap was 21 points in math and 22 points in reading.

      For more than a decade a slew of state and federal policies have attempted to narrow the achievement gap, but the gulf between whites and their black and Hispanic counterparts has remained steady and in some instances, widened. Calls to chip away at the achievement gap have grown louder as recent reports show that many minority students are not college ready when they graduate from high school. But the stagnant achievement growth among high school students in general speaks to a broader population of young people largely unprepared for secondary education, the clearest path to high-paying, high-quality employment.

      The NAEP report card, administered by the federal government every four years to high school students and every two years to 4th and 8th graders, is a key barometer the government uses to gauge student academic achievement.

      The new data comes as the nation’s racial minorities have seen huge gains in high school graduation and college enrollment rates and as high school dropout rates among these groups remain high but show signs of decline. Overall the country’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high of 80%, and academic achievement for elementary and middle school students have climbed steadily.


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