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The frustrating gap in academic achievement between white and black students in Department of Defense Education Activity classrooms is smaller than the national average in U.S. public schools, according to the findings of a new study.

In fact, DODEA schools beat all but a handful of states in all grade and subject areas studied in the report, which was prepared by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report, titled “Achievement Gaps: How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” studied 2007 test results of fourth- and eighth-grade students as samples to measure the achievement gap. The report is the first to focus on the black-white achievement gap at the state level.

“DODEA’s gap is smaller than the nation’s,” said Arnold Goldstein, director of design, analysis and reporting for the center’s assessment division.

A DODEA official said Tuesday that the results indicate that black students in DODEA are scoring higher than their stateside counterparts on the center’s tests, not that white students are scoring lower.

A more stable home environment might be the main reason for DODEA’s success, according to one expert.

Hugh Price, a Princeton University visiting professor who has looked at various education programs nationwide, was part of a panel organized by NCES to look at the report. He said he believes the gap is smaller in DODEA schools because parents get involved in their children’s education and the students are in stable environments.

“My guess is you got more two-parent households [in DODEA schools]. You don’t have the same levels of poverty,” Price said. “Housing and health care, food and clothing; those fundamentals are there. You don’t have those kinds of problems nagging at children.”

The most noticeable difference between DODEA schools and classrooms in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., was achievement in eighth-grade math. The study showed that whites scored 31 points higher on the test’s 500-point scale than blacks nationally, but in DODEA schools, white students scored only 19 points higher on the tests.

The only state with a smaller gap in eighth-grade math was Oregon, which had a 16-point gap.

The smallest gap between white and black students in DODEA was the 17-point difference in fourth-grade reading scores. Nationwide white students scored 27 points higher than blacks did on that test. The only states with smaller gaps were West Virginia (13-point difference), New Hampshire (14) and Hawaii (15).

On the eighth-grade reading and fourth-grade math tests, whites scored 26 points higher than their black peers, but in DODEA schools white students scored only 19 points higher.

Price said gap studies are valuable in the education world.

“We’ve known the gaps have existed for a generation or so,” Price said. “It is important to keep track to see if we are making headway. I think the gap is closing and that is encouraging, it is just not closing at a fast enough clip.”

Carole Newman, who works for DODEA’s assessment and accountability office, called the study a report card that helps parents determine how the 84,000 students in DODEA stack up against children in other school systems.

“We are pleased, but we feel as long as we have a gap we have work to do,” Newman said. “Our leadership addresses how we can do better than we are doing now.”

DODEA spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said the school system uses gap-study data to make decisions about curriculum and other facets of education.

DODEA also puts a lot of stock in a similar study that measures the education gap between white and Hispanic students, Newman said. Blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of students in DODEA schools, she said. White students make up approximately 47 percent of DODEA’s student population, Kanellis said.

DODEA officials pointed to a Vanderbilt University study to explain why they believe the gap is smaller than other public school systems, even though it looked at data collected during the 2002-03 school year.

A June 2007 news release on that study quoted DODEA’s director at the time, Joe Tafoya, as saying, “The military places a great emphasis on training and education and service members know they achieve experience and rank through training and education.”

Tafoya said even during wartime, servicemembers believe the way to get ahead in their specialty is education.

The study also credited DODEA’s small school sizes, how it maximizes resources and spends “smartly,” and its quality teachers and counselors.


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