Black Experience

HU Professor Fights Misleading Stats About Blacks

Howard University professor Ivory Toldson has dedicated his career to debunking statistics about the lack of achievement among Black people, an effort that has culminated in his new book, “No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear About Black People.”

Toldson chuckles at the length of the title, but it explains a myth-telling premise about which the reader doesn’t have to scratch his or her head.

Toldson, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology, said the book was spurred partly by research he conducted for a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation study in the early 2000s called “Breaking Barriers,” which looked at academic success factors for Black males.

The professor said he was alarmed by many articles in prominent news outlets such as the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times that showed Black boys at the bottom of the academic success scale. With his background in academia and experience within Georgia’s the criminal justice system, he began looking at specific indicators on how Black males compared with males from other races.

The research caused Toldson to not focus on areas where Black males appeared to struggle, instead focusing on areas where they thrived.

“I started to look at Black males that were doing well, despite the odds,” he said. “Then I looked at high performing young Black males compared to those that needed more assistance to see how we can close the gap.”

Toldson’s objective was to end uneven comparisons of Black males to White males. The result for the “Breaking Barriers” study provided a new look at what it takes to create the best learning environment for Black males.

Myth-busting is a byproduct of Toldson’s commitment to “No BS.” The biggest, he said, is that there are more Black men in prison than in college — a myth long perpetuated though there currently are approximately 600,000 more Black males in college than in jail.

Toldson called the myth “the mother of all BS,” humorously likening it to the Jheri Curl.

“They were both invented by White men, worn badly by Black people, and left a nasty stain on the shoulders of millions of Black men,” he said.

The basis of the myth is from a 2002 report by the Justice Policy Institute, “Cellblocks to Classrooms,” which was based on only 2,734 colleges in 2001 reporting their enrollment data. In 2011, the number of colleges reporting their stats to the U.S. Department of Education increased to 4,503. Other data-gathering groups have shown that in 2010, nearly 1.4 million Black males were enrolled in college.

Toldson also takes umbrage with using reading tests in determining someone’s actual ability to read. For more than a decade, less than 15 percent of Black high school graduates have been proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, there’s never been a time in the history of standardized testing that more than half of Black people have scored as proficient in reading.

According to Toldson, this is BS.

“We have to separate tests from test-takers, so we can develop real solutions for real students,” he said. “There’s absolutely nothing that a test of reading proficiency can tell you about a student’s ability to read that you wouldn’t know by, first, listening to the student read and, second, taking an inventory of their reading routines and habits.”

However, many of the myths dispelled in “No BS” are ingrained in approaches to teaching and teachers themselves, Toldson said. When teachers and counselors talk to parents, some also begin to believe those myths about their children.

“I want to engage in a movement where we don’t use these static data points to define the lives and experiences of Black people,” he said. “We need to truly believe in Black people enough to get the best information, the most compassionate understanding and the most reasonable policies to advance our cause for all Black people to benefit.”

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