What's the Relationship Between Ethnic Groups and Test Scores?

Why do students from some racial or ethnic groups outperform students from other racial or ethnic groups?

Don’t bother raising that question at California’s Alhambra High School, where Asians make up 54 percent of the population and Latinos 38 percent. On the school’s 2004 STAR Test, which measures student proficiency, Asian students’ scores in English Language Arts for the 11th grade are 44 percent, with Latinos scoring 26 percent. In Mathematics, Asians in Algebra I scored 49 percent, and Latinos 12 percent. In Algebra II, Asians scored 55 percent, with Latinos at 19 percent. For Geometry, Asians scored 51 percent, and Latinos 11 percent.

Robin Zhou, a senior, wrote a school newspaper column called “Latinos Lag Behind in Academics.” Zhou asked, “So why are our Advanced Placement classes 90 percent Asian? Two factors contribute significantly that influence students’ academic progress from the first year of school. The first is cultural: many Asian parents, especially recent immigrants, push their children to move toward academic success, while Hispanic parents are well-meaning but less active. Since kids are concerned mainly with the present, little parental involvement often means they fail to realize that school is not an end in itself but a bridge to better things.

“Given that Asian students are often pushed harder and more consistently by their parents, it’s not surprising that a performance gap already exists by middle school. . . . The second factor maintaining the performance gap appears around then, the deliberate segregation of previously uniform student bodies into white- and blue-collar castes.”

For respectfully pointing out the elephant in the room, Zhou received threats. Some students — and at least one teacher — called him racist! Never mind that Zhou carefully wrote the article to avoid offense. “Using past scores as a measure,” he carefully wrote, “are Hispanic students not pulling their weight? The answer is clearly no. To deny that the Hispanic student population as a whole lags behind its Asian counterpart would be ignoring the cold statistical truth. Is this suggesting that brown people cannot think on the level of white and yellow people? Absolutely not. [Emphasis added.] But the difference is real, and it needs to be acknowledged and explained before it can be erased.”

Consider the plight of Scott Phelps, a teacher at Muir High School in Pasadena, Calif., for 12 years. Phelps posted an e-mail in a school district chat room — later distributing it to his fellow teachers — discussing recent scores of the school’s students on the Academic Performance Index. He committed the politically incorrect sin of wondering why low socio-economic African-American students, as a group, have historically scored lower on standardized tests, and why many seemed to lack academic focus. “If you look at their scores and track them over the years, you will see that they’re horrible,” said Phelps. “I’m not singling out a group. I’m not saying that low test scores are caused by low socio-economic students, I’m saying that low scores and low socio-economic students are directly related.”

Further, Phelps had the audacity to suggest that of the students who engage in disruptive behavior, black students are disproportionately involved. “Overwhelmingly,” Phelps wrote, “the students whose behavior makes the hallways deafening, who yell out for the teacher and demand immediate attention in class, who cannot seem to stop chatting and are fascinated by each other and relationships but not with academics, in short, whose behavior saps the strength and energy of us that are at the front lines, are African American. . . . Eventually, someone in power will have the courage to say this publicly. . . . Class is something they do between passing periods, lunch or nutrition break, when they chase each other in the hallways, into classrooms, yelling at the top of their lungs.”

The resulting uproar got Phelps suspended. The school board reinstated him only after town hall meetings in which parents and even some black students and teachers demanded that the popular and widely respected teacher return.

I have a friend who lives in mid-town Los Angeles. Years ago, he invited me to visit a small library at the corner of Olympic and Vermont, an area between the high-rises of downtown and Koreatown. It is about 70 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. At around four-o’clock in the afternoon, outside the library, several Hispanic kids performed incredible tricks on their skateboards. They were jumping, spinning, twirling and showing off their considerable skills. My friend then said, “C’mon, Larry, let’s go inside.” Inside the library — standing room only — were Korean-American kids and their mothers. Not one Latino kid inside the library. Not one.

The diversity/inclusion/multicultural crowd wants not only equal rights. They want equal results. But results require hard work, sacrifice and discipline. Either that, or a really good government program.