Livingston, D. (2002) Relationships between poverty, race and the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test Results. GATEWAYS Journal of the Georgia Association of Teacher Educators. (15), (1), Fall 2002 p. 25 – 44.

 

 

Relationships Between Poverty, Race and the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test Results from Rural Declining Georgia.

Donald R. Livingston

LaGrange College

Abstract

The State of Georgia has passed into law a bill which mandates that students in grades 3, 5, and 8 must pass a standardized examination, named the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), to move up to the next grade. Because there is compelling evidence that socio-economic factors play a significant role in standardized testing, this study of school systems in the thirty-nine counties categorized as  “declining rural counties” in Georgia was undertaken to determine the relationships between poverty, race and CRCT scores. The research methodology compares multiple economic and cultural measures with CRCT statistics from each district and compares this data to the rest of the state. This study suggests that the correspondence between socio-economic status, race and the grade level retention that will result from failing the CRCT will perpetuate socio-economic class stratification in declining rural counties in Georgia.

 

 

 

            On March 21, 2001, Georgia’s legislature passed into law a bill which mandates that students in grades 3, 5, and 8 must pass a standardized examination, named the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), to move up to the next grade, beginning with 3rd graders in 2004. (State Board of Education [SBOE], 2001) (Barnes, 2001).

As a way to illuminate just how pernicious a law such as this will be to the poorest among us, I have conducted a study of school systems in the thirty-nine counties categorized as “declining rural counties” in Georgia, commonly referred to as the “black belt”, so named because of the large number of African Americans who reside in them.

My methodology compared county by county demographic data compiled by the University of Georgia Department of Housing and Consumer Economics (University of Georgia Department of Housing and Consumer Economics, 2002) with the State of Georgia’s Office of Education Accountability’s (State of Georgia’s Office of Education Accountability, 2002) statistics for each district. Because there is compelling evidence that family background is the primary determinate for school achievement (Sheppard & Smith, 1989; Elmore, Abelman & Furhman, 1996; Clotfelter & Ladd, 1996), my study includes an analysis of eight socio-economic categories; 1.) percentage of population that is African American, 2.) per capita income, 3.) children in poverty, 4.) African Americans in poverty, 5.) female headed families in poverty, 6.) un-wed births, 7.) percentage of population without a high school diploma, and 8.) percentage of African Americans without a high school diploma. Given that family background is such an important predictor of success, it is critical to supplement the school lunch index, the common statistic used to determine poverty in schools, with multiple economic and cultural measures.

When I first embarked on this study, I wanted to achieve two objectives: 1) compare the data gathered from these thirty-nine rural declining counties with statewide data; 2) present descriptive statistics that illuminate the relationship between CRCT scores and multiple socio-economic data. But, after I looked closer at the numbers, I discovered that in many of these counties, the school district data did not match up with countywide data. After comparing the county population demographics with the school systems data, it became apparent that many of these school systems have a discernable racial imbalance. Because this discovery suggests that race will matter in the decision to fail a child in Georgia, this research was expanded to include a discussion about the future of the rural African American community once the CRTC is implemented.

These thirty-nine counties form a constellation of poverty that slash through the southern region of the state of Georgia.  Forming contiguous pockets of counties in rural decline, the constellation extends in a chain from the far southwest corner to the eastern part of the state. As a way to boost the clarity of the research, I have chosen to present this data through a geographic journey whose starting point begins in the most concentrated area of poverty in southwest Georgia. Traveling across the state, this paper will explore those counties that make up the belt buckle, a band that traverses along the mid-section of the state from west to east, followed by a discussion of those counties that are located in the east.

 

Southwest Rural Declining Counties: Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Early, Miller, Mitchell, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole, Stewart, Terrell and Webster.

            These twelve counties are found huddled along the Alabama and Florida border in the farthest southwest corner of the State of Georgia framed by the Chattahooche River to the west, Albany, Georgia as the closest city to the east and Columbus, Georgia to the north. There are no major roads cutting through nor are there towns of any substantial population. While there may never be an occasion for many travelers to ever pay the folks here a visit, these twelve counties are home to 92,400 Georgians, of which, 14,080 are children in the public school system.

Table 1.          Southwest Rural Declining Counties SES Data

Compared to Georgia State SES Data

 

SES Attributes

Range in Southwest Rural Declining County Data

State Data

Population

African American

47.0% to 61.5%

28.0%

1999 Per Capita Income

$16,153 to $22,270

$27,324

1997 Children in Poverty

27.2% to 47.4%

21.8%

1989 African American in Poverty

33.7% to 53.0%

30.3%

1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty

34.0% to 70.2%

34.3%

1999

Unwed Births

42.9% to 65.9%

36.6%

No High School Diploma

46.4% to 60.9%

29.1%

African American No High School Diploma

56.6% to 70.6%

41.4%

            As Table 1 shows, these twelve counties have two to three times more African American citizens than the rest of the state, most of which live in poverty. Because school children here are likely to be impoverished, living in a household run by an unwed mother who dropped out of school, the prospect for academic success is bleak. With up to seventy percent of the African American population without a high school degree, academic role models are hard to come by.

If you should attend school here in the future, you would have a one in three, at best a one in five, chance at passing the from the third grade to the fourth grade once the CRCT decides your fate, a probability much worse than the rest of the state (Table 2).

 Passing on to the sixth grade will be even more difficult, given that your odds are about 50/50 that you will pass the CRCT. While the scores statewide are improving in the sixth grade CRCT, your school's scores are getting worse, ever widening the gap between rich and poor. If you are so fortunate to make it to the eighth grade in 2006, chances are better than even that you will not go to high school the next year because you failed the mathematics portion of the CRCT. As for comparing your school to the rest of the state, your school is in a free falling spiral, dropping significantly behind an abysmal statewide percentage of failing students.

Table 2.          Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade in Southwest Rural Declining Counties

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Southwest Counties

32%

31%

50%

Statewide

26%

26%

38%

Percent Change

+23%

+19%

+32%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade in Southwest Rural Declining Counties

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Southwest Counties

37%

47%

46%

Statewide

24%

36%

31%

Percent Change

+54%

+31%

+48%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade in Southwest Rural Declining Counties

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Southwest Counties

30%

44%

56%

Statewide

18%

32%

41%

Percent Change

+67%

+38%

+37%

 

With the exception of one of the twelve counties, Webster County, the racial balance of the schools when compared to the general population is egregiously disproportional. Calhoun County’s population is sixty percent African American, yet Calhoun County Schools have too few whites to report, meaning that forty percent of the white children in Calhoun County attend private schools or are home-schooled. Sixty percent of the fourth graders, forty-four percent of the sixth graders and sixty percent of the eighth graders in Calhoun County failed at least one CRCT content area test.

Terrell County tells the same story, only worse. Terrell is also sixty percent African American with no significant white representation in the schools.  Having the lowest per capita income of around $16,000, Terrell County Schools will face the fact that sixty-two percent of the forth graders, sixty percent of the sixth graders and sixty eight percent of the eighth graders will fail their respective grades.

Think again if you believe the situation cannot deteriorate any more.  Welcome to Quitman County where less than one half, forty-six percent, of the population is African American, yet, once again, no whites attend the one elementary public school there. In Quitman County, teachers and principals will face the daunting responsibility for carrying out the failure sentence for eighty-one percent of the fourth grade class and sixty-five percent of the sixth grade.

Same story unfolds in Randolph County, with ninety-three percent of their children on the free lunch program, teachers and principals there will be forced to fail sixty percent of the fourth, sixth and eighth grade students.  While Clay County CRCT scores are not as low as the others, this all African American school system, with a per capita income of $17,000 and sixty-five percent of African Americans in the county without a high school degree, will fail twenty-nine percent in the fourth grade, fifty-five percent in the sixth grade and because forty-eight percent of the eighth grade did not meet the mathematics standards of the CRCT, they too, will fail. The remaining schools in the counties, Baker, Early, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole and Stewart, are also disproportionately African American when compared to the general population. Most of the schools in these counties are two-thirds African American with county data showing a range of one third to one half of the population as African American.

 

Mid-State Rural Declining Counties: Bleckley, Clinch, Cook, Dooley, Irwin, Lanier, Macon, Pulaski, Taylor, Telfair, Turner, Talbot, Ware and Wilcox.

            Next, we travel to the fourteen counties that form a contiguous swath of land beginning in Talbot County, situated between Columbus and Macon Georgia, southward along Interstate 75 to the Florida border, where Clinch and Ware Counties envelope the great Okeefenokee Swamp. These mid-state counties are home for 168,276 Georgians, 28,854 of whom are children in the public schools.

            Table 3 paints a picture of economic and social crisis with data that shows per capita income well below the state average, resulting in significantly more children in poverty. As with the southwestern counties, school children in the mid-state counties are likely to be offspring of poor, un-wed African American mothers without a high school diploma.

Table 3.          Mid-State Rural Declining Counties SES Data Compared to State

 

SES Attributes

Range in Midstate Rural Declining County Data

State Data

Pop.

African American

24.6% to 61.6%

28%

1999 Per Capita Income

$15,585 to $23,202

$27,324

1997 Children in Poverty

 26.7% to 38.9%

21.8%

1989 African American in Poverty

34.7% to 57.8%

30.3%

1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty

37% to 64.7%

34.3%

1999

Unwed Births

37.7% to 62.7%

36.6%

No High school Diploma

39.4% to 53.8%

29.1%

African American No High School Diploma

54% to 69.8%

41.4%

 

            When these counties are examined, the relationship between race, poverty and educational attainment becomes clearer. Dooley, Macon, and Talbot, counties with the largest African American populations are the poorest; while Bleckley, Irwin, and Pulaski counties, with much fewer African Americans, are better off. These data suggests that this economic divide persists because of the lack of educational attainment among African Americans. When the category “African American No High School” is illuminated on Table 3, the data describe a population that has, for the most part, found it difficult to graduate from high school. Ten of these fourteen counties have anywhere from sixty to seventy percent of the African American population without a high school degree; the remaining four counties have fifty to sixty percent without a diploma.

            Widening the socio-economic divide between Whites and African Americans in the declining rural counties of Georgia will surely be exacerbated through the implementation of the CRCT mandates. Through retention in the third, fifth and eighth grades, African American children will be systematically encouraged to throw in the towel on their education by deciding to drop out of school, resulting in the inability to command wages that might lift them out of poverty.  Supporting the assumption that income is proportional to test scores, the data suggest that there is a relationship between CRCT test scores and the income earned by African Americans. When Mid-State African American CRCT scores are compared to statewide figures, the data shows that poorer African Americans living in rural declining counties do worse than those African Americans who live in counties with higher income levels.  Further, there is evidence that African Americans students who live in places where more of the African American population has earned a high school diploma do better on the CRCT than counties with less educational attainment.

            The poverty to failure equation is repeated over and over again in Table 4 when the aggregate Mid-State CRCT scores show much lower results than the statewide data. By advocating public schooling as a way to correct this disparity in socio-economic status, many, including historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann, have made attempts to lift up those who have been condemned by a rigid class system by removing the barriers to education (Nieto, 1992). These values, grounded on the belief that strengthening democracy and freedom can be achieved through the opportunity of education attainment have, apparently, been lost on those who endorse the use of this high-stakes testing instrument to determine promotion and grade level retention.

Table 4.          Mid-State Rural Declining Counties

 

Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Mid-State Counties

36%

33%

45%

Statewide

26%

26%

38%

Percent Change

+36%

+27%

+18%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Mid-State Counties

33%

46%

34%

Statewide

24%

36%

31%

Percent Change

+37%

+28%

+10%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Mid-State Counties

25%

39%

48%

Statewide

18%

32%

41%

Percent Change

+39%

+22%

+17%

 

 

Eastern Georgia Rural Declining Counties: Emanuel, Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Screven, Taliaferro, Tatnall, Treutlen, Warren, Wheeler, Wilkenson and Wilkes.

 

            The final leg of our journey across the southern portion of Georgia takes us to the Eastern Rural Declining Counties. These fourteen counties stretch vertically southward from counties that lie northwest of Augusta to rural areas southwest of Savannah.  While these counties have very similar socio-economic data commensurate with very low CRCT test scores (Tables 5 and 6), there are egregious data such as Screven County’s eighty percent mathematics failure in the eighth grade for African American students; meaning that eight out of ten African Americans will not go to high school once the CRCT becomes the arbiter for promotion. Take Hancock County’s statistic that shows that eighty percent of the children born in 1999 in the county live in single parent households; meaning that the kindergarten class in 2004 would have eight out of ten children living with a single parent.  Yet, one salient anomaly stands out in support to my argument that the CRCT is an instrument of institutional racism intended to do economic violence against poor African American children.

Table 5.          Eastern Georgia Rural Declining Counties SES Data Compared to State

 

SES Attributes

Range in Eastern Rural Declining County Data

State Data

Pop.

African American

8.3% - 77.8%

28%

1999 Per Capita Income

$16,787--$21,565

$27,324

1997 Children in Poverty

22.3% - 45.4%

21.8%

1989 African American in Poverty

25.8% - 54.4%

30.3%

1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty

29.4% - 64.2%

34.3%

1999

Unwed Births

29.4% - 80.6%

36.6%

No High school Diploma

38% - 57.2%

29.1%

African American No High School Diploma

54% - 80.6%

41.4%

 

 Table 6.         Eastern Rural Declining Counties

Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Mid-State Counties

38%

38%

49%

Statewide

26%

26%

38%

Percent Change

+46%

+46%

+29%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Eastern Counties

34%

47%

37%

Statewide

24%

36%

31%

Percent Change

+42%

+31%

+19%

 

Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade

 

Content Area

Reading

English/ Language Arts

Mathematics

Eastern Counties

27%

46%

51%

Statewide

18%

32%

41%

Percent Change

+50%

+44%

+24%

 

            When the counties in the eastern region are compared to the southeastern and mid-state counties, there is a distinctive outlier, Glascock County, a county with a small African American population of 8.3%, which is not consistent with the data from the other thirty-eight counties. Located in the center of a chain of five rural declining counties, Glascock County stands out as the only rural declining county that has SES and CRCT data better than, or comparable to, the State averages. Because Glascock County’s per capita income is in line with the other rural declining counties, the variable that confounds the repeated pattern of poverty and low CRCT scores is whiteness. Not only will the vast majority of Glascock County students be promoted, about one third of the CRCT test takers actually exceeded the standards, a statistic not seen in any of the other thirty-eight county data. When the data from the other four counties in the chain are compared, Glascock County’s relatively low unwed birth rate appears to reduce the number of children in poverty, suggesting that the “children in poverty” and “un-wed mothers” statistics may also be predictors for CRCT achievement.

            Glascock County’s segregation from its neighbors leads to another assumption germane to this research, that the CRCT Test creates a new kind of discrimination – one that hides behind the appearance of fair testing to mask persistent inequalities in the quality of education that rural African American children receive in Georgia (McNeil, 2000).  Walter Haney, of Boston College’s Center for the Study of Testing, warns that, “The consequences of standardized tests for Black and Hispanic students are clearly criminal from an educational point of view. It remains to be seen whether they are criminal under the United States Constitution” (McNeil, 2000, p. 231).

Counting Out Going on to High School

 

Overwhelmingly, African Americans in Rural Declining Counties are at much greater risk of failing the fourth, sixth and eighth grade CRCT than African Americans who live in cities, suburbs or rural growth counties. Yet, those most at risk are eighth graders who attend all Black schools in the rural declining counties. Because they failed one or more of the content area tests, chances are that most of the eighth graders in these ten counties will not go on to high school. Clearly, the worst performing category was mathematics with only 44% eligible to move up to the 9th grade. If the law were effective today, Taliaferro County would send four students to high school leaving thirteen behind, Talbot County would send only eleven, holding back forty-four. Calhoun fails thirty-three of their fifty- seven eighth graders, Clay County retains half of their thirty-two children. In the larger counties, Hancock retains eighty of one hundred twenty-one as Terrell County keeps ninety-one of their one hundred thirty-three eighth graders in middle school. Ten of the thirty-nine Rural Declining Counties fall into the ‘all Black’ school system category with six of these, Calhoun, Quitman, Clay, Randolph, Stewart and Terrell, being located in the Southwest section of the State. The others, Taliaferro, Hancock and Warren surround all white Glascock County in the east with Talbot County being the lone all-Black school district in the Mid-State region.

            Because each of these counties has its own school district, these schools are not considered illegally segregated. Drawing school district lines by county does not, superficially at least, appear to be gerrymandering given that each school district corresponds to an established county. Yet, segregation is, nonetheless, the result and the children in these schools suffer the same effects of a segregated education.

The Carnage to Come

Being the most impoverished counties in the state, these Rural Declining school systems faced formidable challenges before the legislation to end social promotion was passed. With an average of twenty-five percent of their populations under the age of seventeen, these counties are teeming with children who need enormous resources to overcome obstacles to academic success. What makes the “declining rural counties” of Georgia’s plight unique is that the children who attend schools in these counties will be denied, in defacto, their property rights to a public education after they become encouraged to drop out of school through the practice of grade retention. From the data presented through this research, most of these counties already have very high drop out rates. What percentage will the drop out rate reach when thirty-five to fifty percent of all fourth, sixth and eighth graders will be retained in grade? The question that begs to be asked  “is this legislation really intended to improve education or is it a financial strategy to reduce the State’s financial obligation to the rural poor?”  It is clear that failing masses of poor children will not improve pedagogy because punishing children with retention does not change teaching. What we do know is that the association between retention and dropping out is noted consistently through out educational research. Without a doubt, flunking children increases the risk of dropping out of school (Frymier, 1997).  Because these thirty-nine counties are very poor, and the tax base available for public schools is small, the State of Georgia’s compensates for this revenue deficiency by making exceptionally large contributions to these counties. Thus, while not stated as policy, it cannot be ignored that the CRCT will most likely save the State a considerable amount of money by reducing the number of students in schools in these counties.

While I dispute claims that the CRCT is a valid instrument to determine if a child should be retained in grade, I do not dispute that the CRCT is a very reliable measure of economic resources (Kohn, 2001).  As legislators extol the virtues of achieving academic excellence by using a ‘fair’ test, like the CRCT, to determine if a child passes or fails, the real agenda is class warfare intended to institutionalize intergenerational immobility and social stratification (Ohanian, 1999), a kind of violence that leaves behind the children with the least resources (Spring, 2000). Given the correspondence between the economic system and the complicit role that the institution of education plays in perpetuating the class stratification of society (Bowles & Gintis, 1976), this legislation guarantees that the social reproduction of the society in rural Georgia will be preserved. The mendacity of those who would have us believe that by getting tough on these kids by flunking them is for their own good is unconscionable given the dire social and economic punishments that will be imposed upon them as the result of using the CRCT to decide promotion or retention. This sort of accountability fetish is what Ohanian derides “as cynical as handing out menus to homeless people in the name of eradicating hunger” (Ohanian, 1999, p. 31).

 

 

References

Barnes, R. (Retrieved 21 Sept 2001).  Governor Barnes’ 2001 Education Reform Initiative.  [Online].  Available:  http://www.ganet.org/governor/2001_ed_remarks.html.

 

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. Education reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York, NY: Basic books.

 

Clotfelter, C. T and Ladd, H. F (1996). In Ladd, H. F. (Ed.)  Holding Schools Accountable: Performanced Based Reform in Education. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 23-64.

 

Ellmore, R.F., Abelmann, C.H. and Furhman, S. (1996). The New Accountability in State Education Reform: Policy, Practice and Performance. In H. F. Ladd (Ed.) Holding Schools Accountable: Performance–Based Reform in Education. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute, 65-98.

           

Frymier, J. (1997, February/March).  Characteristics of Students Retained in Grade.  The High School Journal, 80, 184-190.

 

Georgia Department of Education (Retrieved 8 Aug 2001).  Education Reform Initiative.  [Online]. Available:  http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/sla/ret/General-CRCT.html.

 

Georgia State Board of Education (SBOE) (Retrieved 12 Nov 2001) Official Code 20-2-283. [Online]. Available:  http://www.ganet.state.ga.us/services/ocode.htm.

 

Kohn, A. (2000). The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising Scores, Ruining the Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 

McNeil, L. M. (2000). Contradictions of Reform: the educational costs of standardized testing. New York: Routledge.

 

Nieto, S. (1992).  Racism, Discrimination, and Expectations of Students’ Achievement.  Affirming Diversity.  New York, NY: Longman.

 

Ohanian, S. (1999). One Size Fits Few: the Folly of Educational Standards. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 

Shepard, L.A., & Smith, M.L. (1989). Flunking Grades: Research and Policies on Retention. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press.

 

Spring, J. (2000). American Education, ninth edition, Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

           

National Education Association (NEA) (Retrieved 12 Nov 2001). NEA Today Online. [Online]. Available:  http://www.nea.org/neatoday/0003/presview.html.

 

State of Georgia office of Educational Assessment (Retrieved December 27, 2001) Georgia’s report Card [Online] http://www.ga-oea.org

 

University of Georgia Department of Housing and Consumer Economics Georgia Facts (Retrieved January 5, 2002 [Online] http:// www.ga-facts.net