A hopeful statistic for Oakland’s African-American boys

Recently, because of a proud (and persistent) mother, the Oakland school district discovered that 23 African-American boys in grades 2 to 5 had perfect scores on their reading or math tests last spring. Read all about it here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    A really nice story.

    But: We know that the “Gap” becomes a problem later, not in grades 2 to 5. We need to not be distracted by feel-good stories about pre-pubescent success and keep out focus on where the trouble is.

    Amir is apparently a bright. It would be a good idea to start IQ testing to see where he is scoring at this point in his development. Oh, I forgot, some appellate court decided to decree (even though they are not a legislature) that black boys (only blacks, no other race) could not be IQ tested in public schools. Since Amir appears to be classified as black, his school won’t allow him to be tested.

    Another significant problems for black brights is the freak factor. Even in the gushy article Amir appears to be hailed as a prodigy, in some way being abnormal. Amir is no dummy and sooner or later he probably won’t like to be considered abnormal. Maybe someone will diss him for acting “white” (jewish??). Probably by age 14. And there you have it.

    If Amir is placed in a black dominated school you can safely assume his very safety is at risk if he continues doing this well in academics. Beyond his safety he has to worry about his social standing.

    This wasn’t my problem, I and my siblings were kept in white dominated schools since kindergarten in Berkeley (Berkwood). Outscoring them was actually fun – because I could tell it wasn’t expected (or appreciated?) and I’ve always had this non-conformist streak. Later on of course I found that you couldn’t outscore everyone in everything and specialization set in. My female cousins by all reports had a harder time of it in their schools. Asians breathing down their neck their entire academic career and to prevent one cousin from being high school valedictorian the rules were suddenly changed her year. They reported a sense of isolation I attribute to not being able to party like boys could(at least way back then). Oh well!

    Good luck to Amir, he is really going to need it. Especially if he stays in OUSD.

    Black kids have a variety of advantages and there are brights in most fields. Our problems include how many brights we have per thousand and how to identify and keep the brights performing at optimum. It would be nice if the urban public school districts tended the brights like prized weapons. It would be nice if the parents were clued in on what they are dealing with. But, then, you can’t IQ test Negroes, remember? Except in juvenile court, state hospitals, military recruiting and NFL. Too bad about that but the appellate courts know best. And although the legislature can overrule the courts, neither party would carry the bill for black relief from racially restrictive court rulings.

    I’ll hazard a guess that Amir is a bright, he has fast brain function. He has superior calculating and memory powers. This is not taught, he inherited them from his parents. He’s 8 so the next 10 years are important to get him up to competitive strength for University Level academic competition. I hope he is made to understand that this kind of thing is normal for him no matter what other black kids say or do. A lot can go wrong in 10 years – other brights are not in Stanford. Some of them are dead. I hope his parents and he can navigate the traps and pitfalls ahead – some of them specifically dangerous for black boys.

    Good Luck to them!

  • MadisonMath

    I had one last year in 6th grade!

  • Nextset

    I thought I should mention why I believed IQ testing bright (black) students would help them.

    One of the problems I experienced and I noticed other bright black students experiencing is getting placed in everything from classes to occupation-related programs. You see, we tended to be “exceptions”. The schools, parents and powers that be did not want to promote to our level of failure. At some point they were afraid to push things (to some degree or other). Likewise as time went on we ourselves were concerned about when the difficulties really were going to be too much.

    The scoring allows confidence that you are really matching the candidate to the job. That’s why IQ testing and job IQ matching is so critical in the military and the NFL and other places. They have learned the hard way over time that candidates who are outside certain bands (too high or too low) don’t work out in a given placement or assignment. In some cases it’s not completely determinative but it is useful as a guide along with other psychometrics in deciding on a course for a given candidate.

    We deny this to blacks in public schools while offering it to other races. So I’m informed anyway. It’s another way black brights are screwed over in public schooling. The crab pot problem is the other main difficulty. You avoid these problems by getting the bright black kids out of there into private or church schools. Black professional class parents usually understand all this and act reflexively to protect and promote their kids – who they see as part of the retirement plan.

    May parents had to have formal meetings with the school administration and angrily threaten my sue my public school to get me enrolled in UC entrance requirements classes. There were no problems with my grades (all A’s and B’s, maybe one high C) – but the school counselors didn’t think it was “a good idea” for me to take all those solids at the same time (even though my friends did and you had to double up to get everything done in time to apply to UC). The school didn’t want me to possibly fail – things were going well enough as far as they saw. My parents won that fight and I’d never seen them so angry at a school.

    I took the classes and did well. And yes, I was paid for good grades and threatened with consequences if I turned in anything less than High Bs.

    Although younger siblings didn’t have the same fight with the school counselors to get into college prep, my cousins at other bay area schools had similar experiences (schools voiced concern the parents were pushing these poor black chillun too hard).

    Without the IQ scoring to support it, the schools are afraid to push the bright black kids academically. They don’t want to take chances on failure when things are going well enough.

  • AC Mom


    In OUSD, all 3rd graders have an IQ test in order to determine their eligibility in the GATE program. Parents may choose not to have their child tested, but I wanted to correct your statement that Black youth are not permitted to take an IQ test. After the 3rd grade a student may be tested. That request can come from a teacher, parent, or the student. Here is a link to the OUSD GATE program website http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/1994101113153117313/site/default.asp

    Unfortunately, OUSD has not prioritized services for higher achieving youth, so even with that data very little(my child has not received any special programming or instruction) is done. A parent that chooses to keep their high-achieving child in OUSD, typically supplements their child’s education.

  • Nextset

    AC Mom: I’ll try to find the appellate case I was thinking of. My memory of it is that it’s an old ruling that held IQ tests (as applied) discriminated against black public school children.

    I was wondering exactly which “IQ” test you have heard is being used on the 3rd grade public school kids. Is it a proxy for IQ test – or is it a test that returns a number given as being that child’s “IQ”?

    Here’s an article about the Wonderlic test which is widely used:


    Somehow I doubt liberals would allow it near the public school black kids. It would bruise a lot of egos and hurt their “self esteem”.

    I was amused that the article states Michael Vick scored a 20 which is below bank teller or clerical worker (22-21). A 20 corresponds to an IQ of 100. Vick’s brother Markus scored an 11 which is below the level of warehouse worker (14).

  • AC Mom


    The Ravens test is used.

  • Marcia

    Probably the case is Larry P. v. Riles, 793 F.2d 969 (9th Circuit 1984). But I don’t think they enjoined IQ tests; they enjoined use of “non-validated” IQ tests to classify students as what was then called “educable mentally retarded” and would now be special ed.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Parents must sign a permission form before their children can be given the Ravens test for GATE placement. I believe that no score is recorded for the test in the student’s record except to indicate that he or she was accepted into the GATE program or not. This prevents there from being any stigma associated with the test results. GATE placement requires a score above the 95th percentile I believe (the exact percentile has changed over the years, but I think it was always above the 90th.)

  • Nextset

    I don’t think the GATE testing for primary school children is the controversial thing. For one thing I believe GATE is something the candidate applies for.

    I think the real controversy is testing the pubescent students. The scoring at age 15 becomes more meaningful and more closely associated with vocation/career placement. And it’s the post puberty scores that become fixed and durable – less suceptable to change. These are the scores people are really afraid of.

    Using the Vick brothers as a reference, If you are using the Wonderlic and Markus has an 11 you are going to rule him out for college placement and start guiding him to occupations suitable to an IQ of 82 (a WPT score of 11). With Brother Michael’s Score of 20 you are going to forget a national university degree – his IQ of 100 would not indicate he could survive that level of competition. However he is just under the level for NFL Quarterback and that occupation would be his “reach” (and that sure doesn’t actually require a degree in anything – just the pretense of being a college student long enough to turn pro). So there you go.

    Unfortunately for Michael and Markus as well, the lower the score the more you have to anticipate/expect criminal tendencies (as well as substance abuse tendencies in certain family/ethnic lines). It would have been a good idea prophylactically to work on the criminality (ie anti-social, dangerous risk taking, rule breaking behavior and attitudes). In the case of some of the rowdy Italian and Irish boys I grew up with, Boy Scouting among other things was used to instill ethics and controls. They usually became cops.

    This thread is on Amir and the primary school bright black children. I’m not trying to take away how bright Amir is. My point is that good teachers armed with state of the art psychometrics can do a lot for any kids and especially minority kids. Teachers should be as free as physicians to order diagnostic tests to be used to find the best outcomes for their students. Knowledge is power. The students and their families are free to ignore the teacher’s best experience and advice. But even in an urban public school the kids should have the benefit of all there is to know about themselves and the world (it’s occupations and related standards and compatibility) they are being dumped into at age 18.

    And it’s not always pleasant to confront these numbers. It is however an advantage to know the numbers – and the odds.

    I see too many wanna-bes who say the want to be a Dr or a Lawyer or whatever who have been given no information on what it takes to fill that position and the change they’d have to undergo to fit in there. They pass up other good options – for example people who could manage dentistry but never had the IQ for medicine. Or banking vs law, and so on.

    We have too much wasted potential from lax discipline and inadequate guidance. I see way way too many black wanna bes who have not had the most basic vocational guidance in their public school careers.

  • Nextset

    I just looked at the article of the disgraceful career of Markus Vick.


    This is what I’m referring to when I say sub-normal IQ scores should be used to place the student in prophylactic training or programs to control criminal & anti-social tendencies. There are plenty of people with dull IQs who are not in and out of jail and legal problems. I think the difference is that someone saw what was coming and helped them get control of themselves. Some dulls are lucky enough to have brighter parents who raise them well enough to keep them safe. Our urban schools are full of fatherless boys who need a school program to give them a margin of protection against a bad life. We can do more than we have been – if we deal with these problems openly.

    This thread is about bright kids. It’s not the bright kids who need all the help at OUSD. For the most part they’re going to be fine anyway (just don’t hold them back) and there are not so many of them. It’s the dull students that OUSD needs to do the most for, like the huge number of black kids who drop out without graduating or walk away from OUSD because the program is perceived as being valueless.

  • Gordon Danning

    The Wonderlic test appears to be an example of the hazards of “IQ” – type tests. Here is a link to some sample Wonderlic questions: http://espn.go.com/page2/s/closer/020228test.html

    Take a look at #6, which asks, “One of the numbered figures in the following drawing is most different from the others. What is the number in that figure?” The question has at least 2-3 problems:

    1. “Most different” is a hopelessly vague term;
    2. The question has at least 2 correct answers: #4, because it is the only figure that does not have 4 sides, and #5, which is the only one without any parallel sides.

    Of course, it is possible that “real” “IQ” tests are better constructed, but still, it is a cautionary tale.

    PS: In addition, the questions themselves (at least the sample represented in the article) are far too easy to form the basis for more than the most gross distinctions among people.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: There are more IQ tests than WOnderlic. And you don’t have to like the questions.

    IQ test questions are certainly not written to your satisfaction. They are largely questions involving Boolean Logic.

    Here’s an article about the testing controversy that has background on the 20th Century fighting over the subject:


    The most interesting aspects of the controversy I see is the futile efforts of the liberal courts and related democratic/civil “rights” types to ban the use of testing. In the end such bans are counterproductive because the practice of IQ screening is vital for many industries including military and NFL purposes – groups that always get waivers. All other industries merely resort to proxy tests in the face of the prohibitions. It’s hard to tell an industry they can’t have it when others do because it works so well.

    The proxy tests – say, graduation from Stanford or Harvard Universities or possession of some specific advanced degree – are more expensive and time consuming in the extreme. Another proxy is having the “right” (bright) parents (IE “Country Club” tests or Pedigree tests). These proxies serve to keep the bright minorities out who would have been located with IQ testing and allowed to advance quickly. Post WWII IBM Corporation started identifying bright candidates by IQ tests and promoting them without the (previous) requirements of pedigree and specific degrees.

    If you want to make fast jumps for bright people – like Amir – testing and advanced placement based on the confidence the testing can provide – is the best way to bring forward minorities.

    Liberals hate it. They are more worried about protecting their dogma (all people are created equal, damn it!!) than serving their “constitiuents”.

    Save us from White Liberals.

  • a teacher

    This is a great example of what can happen when students, teachers, administrators and parents come together for a common purpose of excellence. Props to Amir for studying hard, and raising the standard. This should be front cover news.

  • Gordon Danning


    DUH. We’ve all read The Mismeasure of Man, and the Bell Curve, and all the responses thereto.

    My point was — and I will try to use simpler language this time — that THAT particular test question is poorly worded, and that people should bring a skeptical attitude to those who claim to have developed a test of intelligence, or aptitude, or what have you.

    And, if we are really interested in identifying and serving the needs of gifted “minority” students, then why not simply make classes far more rigorous? Those with the attributes needed to do well — be it intelligence or hard work or creativity — will do well. No one will be excluded by the use of imperfect tests (and they are imperfect in some way, or course – they are all validated based on confidence intervals and degrees of significance that are greater than zero).

  • Janice Lord-Walker

    Amir congratulation on your perfect score in mathematics, you did an excellent job. Parent support is present for Amir along with an OUSD staff at Sobrante Park Elementary School. Thank-you Katy Murphy for bringing this story to the public. Kevin Brown of KBLX 102.9 also mention Amir’s success. These are the stories that Oakland students near to here. If Amir and the other students can succeed during the crucial time in their education grades 2 through grade 5, then more students of color can succeed in mathematics and Language Arts.
    Janice Lord-Walker, Advanced Placement Chemistry Teacher, OUSD

  • Katy Murphy

    @ a teacher: It was!

    The front page of Thursday’s Tribune.

  • AC Mom

    Gordon Danning:

    I agree with your recommendation in post #14 about how OUSD can better identify and serve high-achieving minority students. Do you know if there is anyone in OUSD promoting that or a similar solution district-wide? My personal observation is that programming for all gifted and motivated students (minority or not) appears to be done on an ad hoc basis. Am I missing something?

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: “And, if we are really interested in identifying and serving the needs of gifted “minority” students, then why not simply make classes far more rigorous?”

    Because more rigorous classes cannot be handled by those without the IQ to deal with the rigor. Just what do you think the OUSD IQ spread is?

    You seem to believe that brain processing power can be acquired or taught. Perhaps that’s the root of your confusion. It can’t. Short of removing the medical & nutrition issues that can depress brain function – and there are some – a OUSD teacher cannot make students smarter than they are.

    By requiring classwork involving higher cognitive ability OUSD has run off nearly half of the black students – which is believe is a historically high number. We didn’t do this in 1960. But we do it now. Adding college prep classwork to the graduation requirement – Algebra for example – runs off (far) more minority students than whites.

    Instead of making all classwork “more rigorous” we should track students by ability and place the dull students into challenging programs and classwork they can reasonably handle – which doesn’t include much algebra. The higher aptitude students should be enrolled in more challenging classes including college prep when suitable.

    Students should not go to OUSD to be frustrated and shut out – so they will drop out. And Mr. Danning, do you admit OUSD has far more dull students (IQ below 90) than they have bright students (IQ above 125)? Exactly who is OUSD being run for? How do you reconcile your suggestion to increase “rigor” in courses with the huge black drop rate? To me this sounds like the calls to increase the advanced math/algebra requirement statewide for high school graduation. Doing so would crush the black graduation rate to a fraction of what it is. I don’t see the reason to do this.

    College prep is not traditionally required for High School graduation and it is not required for prole occupations – some of which can support a family.

    This weekend I ran into a Bay Area medical technician who I knew barely graduated from high school. That person is making approx $10k a month now as a state licensed person in a medical field (after several years). Vocational School did that. Now that the student is older and a learning disability is diagnosed and treated things are going very well indeed. Advanced training and a college degree is probably going to happen. All this wasn’t easy, the income requires overtime and premium shift work, benefits are not included and are purchased – for now.

    But if you’d made high school graduation more difficult than it was this person might have been shut out from getting on the ladder of success. The vocational school did require a HS Diploma to start.

    I’ve run into a host of medical technicians to name one occupational field – there are others. They make good money. They are often minorities but rarely blacks. You can do a lot with a high school diploma and occupational training and NO College.

    The first rigor I want in OUSD is severe discipline (speech, dress, deportment). What do you say about that?

    Save Us From White Liberals.

  • Nextset

    Here’s some more bad news from USAToday:

    23% of Black Girls start puberty by age 7.


    So much for “all people are created equal”.

    I wonder what training on this issue is provided public school teachers – or OUSD teachers. You can see the issue of trying to teach even 8th graders (age 14) where the black girls are becoming old maids and the asian girls are prepubescent.

    Puberty issues do affect classroom behavior and performance, and the various ethnic groups are so very different.

    The boys are different in pubery onset also, the article just happens to focus on the girls. Girls who just might be dating 25 year olds.

    What’s a teacher to do?

  • http://xinergylearning.wordpress.com/ Ell Parker

    ‘Parker’s request sparked a campaign to find and honor the district’s highest-achievers…’

    Actually, receiving “public recognition” for my son was never the goal.

    Acknowledging the excellence that exist among our youth to inspire continued academic excellence is what is is all about. Letting our kids know they are more than the lost cause failures that the media typically depicts… and showing them that being a good student is something to be proud of and worthy of celebration…

    I am very passionate about our children and their health, well being and education. This whole thing has been very touching for me. To see how one person speaking up, and taking action, can spark interest (and hopefully positive action) nationwide, and create a positive experience for not just one, but nearly two dozen students… I only hope more parents are inspired to stand up, speak up and take action.

    Much thanks to Chris Chatmon for being the first person within OUSD to take action, and creating a special experience for these students.

  • http://xinergylearning.wordpress.com/ Ell Parker

    @Janice Lord-Walker

    Hi Ms. Lord-Walker!!! Life Academy misses you. 80)

    Blessings to you and the family. xoxo