Marshawn Wolley: State must set high bar for minority student attainment

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

WolleyWe need to have higher expectations for black and brown kids in education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, is supposed to improve on the ambitious goal of equity in education, in part by addressing achievement gaps.

Indiana’s racial achievement gap is significant and should be a civil rights issue.

The Indiana Department of Education has prepared a draft state plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. According to the plan, not even half—about 45 percent—of black kids in Indiana in grades 3 through 8 were proficient in English language arts, and less than 35 percent were proficient in math in 2016.

Latinx kids did better, with about 54 percent proficient in English language arts and about 48 percent proficient in math in the same grade levels in 2016.

In comparison, white kids in the same grade levels were at more than 71 percent in English language arts and more than 65 percent in math in 2016, according to the same report.

The Indiana Department of Education’s approach to reducing the achievement gap seems odd—actually shocking.

In the nearly 180-page draft report, there are two charts that report the proposed long-term goals for student achievement by race subgroups for test takers in grades 3 through 8 and high school. What is troubling—and should outrage you—is that the state’s proposed proficiency goals for kids who look like my black son are different than the goals for his non-black peers.

The proposed proficiency goals, according to the draft report, for white children in grades 3 through 8 in Indiana are 85.8 percent proficiency in English language arts and 82.85 percent proficiency in math by 2023.

Black kids in the same grade levels are supposed to reach 72.6 percent proficiency in English language arts and 67.3 percent for math by 2023.

Yes. The goals for proficiency are lower for black kids than for white kids.

The proficiency gaps get worse in high school, especially when you look at math proficiency.

I understand goals and managing to them. What I don’t get is how it is OK for the IDOE—a public taxpayer-funded agency—to establish different expectations for black and brown kids.

A lower proficiency goal for kids who look like my son means adults are planning for their failure instead of addressing our own failings.

Why isn’t the goal the same for all children?

Page 13 of the report suggests, “setting a common proficiency endpoint (e.g. all student groups will be at 85 percent proficiency by 2023) does a disservice to both struggling students and high achieving students alike.”

The report goes on to suggest that, “Such a goal would be ambitious, but likely not achievable over a medium-term time horizon.” Instead, the state proposes in the draft report a goal of achieving half of the job—“a 50 percent achievement gap closure by 2023.”

The real challenge is growth and the reality that, according to the report, the black student subgroup has only seen a maximum proficiency gain of 2.19 percent since 2010.

Both IDOE’s proficiency goals and the proficiency gains for black students are offensive and hurtful.

While I want to blame IDOE for low expectations, that isn’t as productive as encouraging principals, teachers and parents to have higher expectations for students that look like my son—and putting in the work to see that those expectations are met.•

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Wolley is a lecturer at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. Send comments to

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