Sunday, August 26, 2007

Crime and Testing: Is the Issue Black and White?

The headlines scream, “TEEN CRIMES RISE!” This is nothing new to many parts of the country. The caption under the bold headline continues with, “The disparity between black and white juvenile offenders has officials concerned.”

In Alachua County, home of the University of Florida and the center of the Gator Nation, teen crime has shot up over 10% last year. This is not so alarming, however. The previous 5 years showed a decrease to a low in 2005. 2006 had only 4 more crimes reported than in the year 2000. So, we seem to be doing pretty well. The problem reveals itself when we start looking at the racial make-up of the crimes. Though the county is composed of “more than 70 percent whites and 20 percent blacks” (Wallace, 2007, p. 1A), black juveniles are reportedly committing 67.3 percent with white juveniles committing only 32.2 percent. This is a rate of nearly 2:1.

This sad fact wouldn’t be so bad if it were true only in Alachua County. Unfortunately, it is a national problem. “The National Center for Juvenile Justice reported that in 2005, black juveniles committed slightly more than twice the number of offenses of while juveniles nationwide” (Wallace, 2007, p. 4A). Even here, the worst part is that these crimes tend to be more personal and property crimes. Black juveniles committed crimes at a rate of “2-to-1 for sexual offenses, 3-to-1 for personal crimes in general and about 9-to-1 for firearms crimes” (Wallace, 2007, p. 4A).

Of course, the question, “Why?” is asked. Some of the suggestions as to why were: media influence, esteem builder, protection issues, community/peers pressures, poverty risk factors verses “protective factors,” and the simple and still prevalent inequalities in the pursuit of the American dream.

What does this have to do with education? I can’t prove it, yet, but I am suggesting a hypothesis based on entirely different information. My hypothesis says this: a significant part of the black juvenile delinquency problem is due to academic hopelessness caused (inadvertently) by the standardization the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) inspired.

In Florida we have the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Consistently over the years, blacks have, on average, tested well below the rest of the subgroups except special education (listed as disabled). They even tested significantly lower than the economically disadvantaged by a margin of an average of 10 percent district wide and 7 percent statewide. This last statistic startled me because I was under the impression that economic disparity was at the heart of the problem. But, there seems to be something else, entirely.

There are only a few conclusions that we can come to when analyzing the data. The first conclusion some come to is that blacks are not as smart as all the rest of the races and other subgroups. They, as a whole, are only a little smarter than our disabled group. This conclusion I reject with little qualification. Not only is politically incorrect, it is also blatantly ignoring the clearly widespread examples of highly intelligent and successful individuals who have conquered unbelievable odds and endured indescribable hardships. These individuals not only have been fine examples for their race, but have graced their respective nations and mankind as a whole.

A second conclusion is that a large portion of blacks (primarily those raised generationally in the United States), for whatever reason, do not test well. Many do quite well at many levels until they are told that they are to be tested. This is especially so when this test is to determine their future. I have heard of some evidence for this, but I have no evidence for this suggestion at this time. However, I do have some anecdotal evidence. My experience with teaching many black students has shown me that this may be true. They will be doing fine with much of the material, until they come in to take a test. At the test, they are nervous wrecks. Not all, of course. And, not all nervous wrecks at tests are blacks. I have seen my share of whites in the same boat. Yet, it does seem to be a higher percentage of blacks. Why? I can only conjecture. It may be because of the history of oppression they have felt over time. I don’t really know. I do think that this conclusion has some merit.

A third conclusion that we can come to is that the test itself is biased. A problem arises here, and I don’t know how to address it. FCAT is done so secretly for security purposes, that it is hard to analyze it properly. And, even then, I wouldn’t know how to begin. However, I suspect that this is the major reason. I just wish someone would make a bold assertion to that end and deal with it aggressively.

Nevertheless, I want to get back to my hypothesis about black juvenile delinquency. Almost every day in the schools that blacks (and everyone else for that matter) attend, education is held up as the way to success in life. Yet, every year, a large portion fails to pass the FCAT that would indicate they are capable. Every year around 60 percent miss out, while around 70 percent of whites make it. Again, we see the figure of a failure rate of close to 2-to-1, blacks to whites. Experiencing failure rates like that, year after year, has to be totally demoralizing.

Right now, this is the elephant in the room that no one is talking about. If they are, I am not hearing it or seeing it.

Maybe my hypothesis is totally off base, but the statistics are very consistent and at the same basic rate. I know it would not fix everything, but if we could help the black community by simply addressing the FCAT and other like tests to reflect a bias toward blacks, maybe we could take away the oppressive sense of failure and replace it with a sense of well deserved success. Maybe, with that, many of the black youth will find a good reason to avoid crime and be productive members of their community and society as a whole. Maybe. Maybe not. It seems such a small thing to try with such huge possible rewards. Let’s at least try it.


Florida Department of Education. (2007). 2007 FCAT results. Retrieved August 23, 2007 from

School Board of Alachua County. (2007). NCLB school accountability reports. Retrieved August 24, 2007 from

Wallace, A. (2007). Juvenile justice: Teen crimes rise: The disparity between black and white juvenile offenders has officials concerned. The Gainesville Sun. August 26, 2007.


Gloria Pipkin said...

Although I'm sympathetic to your position, the FCAT is no longer secret--actual tests are released at most grade levels a year after they're administered. You can view the released tests online at

Graded tests are still not available to parents, however--in violation of the Federal Education and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA), which acknowledges parents' rights to examine all "educational records" pertaining to their children. The federal DOE has issued a memo that state assessments are educational records and come under this provision, but the state of Florida has refused to comply, relying on a state court ruling during the Jeb regime.

Jamie Litchfield said...

Thanks Gloria,

This is true. This is much of what I was referring to. There are several different levels of difficulty with these tests as a whole. Releasing them a year later does next to nothing in relieving the situation. I used those released tests to help get my students used to the format. I found that I, myself disagreed with the answers supplied several times. And, I could give good legitimate reasons. I would rather my students be able to discuss the various approaches to understanding the text that to spout out one supposed correct answer.

Your point about FERPA is a prime example of the state of mind with Florida politicians. Consider the current situation with Democratic Party/Primary.

Alas, this is where I live!

Jamie L

j said...

Your insights are interesting, I know that there are many who have difficulty taking tests. Perhaps there could be another way to assess the students. I think more people should look at why the achievement gap between exist. It would be one step closer to fixing the problem.

chandra k miars said...

I am interested in what research has been done as to why these statistics are true.

chandra k miars said...

I think it has to be that in general many are coming from schools that are lacking in providing the adequate resources and education necessary for them to succeed. It also could be the powerful and often times negative role models that are being provided by the media. If we are considering looking at and assesing all skills and types of intelligence, what are these students excelling at? I am sure there are other areas to consider. I feel that the schools that are failing to meet NCLB standards the most should be getting priority attention, funds and assistance.

Jamie Litchfield said...

Hi Chandra,

Yes, I am interested in what kind of research is being done on this as well. I wrote to the Florida Department of Education. Their response is that they are doing everything they can to make sure there is no bias. However, when I looked at their booklet as to who made up their committees, it was made up of percentages reflecting the population. It seems to me that it should be a committee that reflects the community that one is trying to protect from bias.

At any rate, I didn't get any real answers. But, I am still asking. Something is amiss.

Media examples may be a bi part of it. I do not know. But, something is happening.