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Minority gap gets scrutiny

Ohanian Comment: This article deals with complex issues. I note that family income is not mentioned here. I don't look at it as an "excuse" but as a strong negative force which many choose to overlook

I wonder why the reporter chose to omit the fact that the full title of this converence was Achievement Gap Summit: Race and Pedagogy Conference.



by Debbie Cafazzo

For years, educators have been talking about the achievement gap – the stubborn disparity between minority students’ test scores and those of white students.

But speakers at an Achievement Gap Summit in Tacoma on Saturday said the time for talk is over. What’s needed now is action from all quarters – teachers, school administrators, churches, parents and the wider community.

“This gap has always been there,” said Thelma Jackson, a former North Thurston School Board member and current president of Foresight Consultants, which focuses on education.

“But thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, it’s in the spotlight.”

The federal law requires schools to show progress in closing the infamous gap between disadvantaged students and others. This state has chosen to use the Washington Assessment of Student Learning as its measure.

Because of its spotlight effect, Jackson called the No Child Left Behind Act – though imperfect – the best thing to happen to black students since Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made school segregation illegal.

While speakers with long lists of credentials in education addressed Saturday’s gathering at the University of Puget Sound, some of the most eloquent statements came from a panel of Pierce County high school students.

Cyril Walrond, a senior at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma who plans to major in pre-med studies and psychology at the University of Washington, told adults: “I want you guys to know we need you. … You guys are our role models.”

Accepting work that’s not up to standards isn’t the answer, he said.

“Be there for us,” urged London Skinner, a junior at Foss High School in Tacoma who plans to study journalism in college.

“You need to stay on your kids,” said Shae Blakely, a Foss junior and Gates Achievers Scholar. “Even though they’re arguing with you, it helps out in the long run. They’ll thank you in the long run.”

“I came in here not knowing how big the (achievement) gap is. … This is not right,” said Sienna Lyons, a Puyallup High School junior who plans to major in dance and business in college. She said one of the best ways to close the gap is to publicize it.

Jackson, who is black, said that although Saturday’s summit focused on black students, the achievement gap also affects other “poor and marginalized children.” Closing the gap for black students will go a long way toward helping all students, she said.

She urged educators to look also at what she called “the preparation gap” and “the resource gap” that affect minority students before they even get to school.

Michele Foster, educational anthropologist and author of “Black Teachers on Teaching,” reviewed a list of reasons often cited for the achievement gap: a peer culture that discourages black students from “acting white” and excelling in school, family problems, a lack of books at home.

But she said those reasons hide behind a cloak of racism that labels black culture deficient.

She said desegregation of schools didn’t eliminate racism. Instead, she said, racism has “morphed into a new form” that isn’t as obvious.

She urged summit participants to develop ways to honor successful black students and teach them that “being black is consistent with being an achiever and an intellectual.”

The event was hosted by UPS in partnership with the Tacoma-Pierce County Black Collective and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It was a prelude to a larger national conference, “Race and Pedagogy,” at UPS in September.

MEASURING THE GAP

The achievement gap affecting minority students shows up in several kinds of tests, including the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which all Washington high school students must pass beginning with the class of 2008.

Here is a snapshot of WASL scores from Washington 10th-graders. The gap persists even though all subgroups have improved.

Percent of tested students meeting state standards in reading

White students

1998-99 school year: 58.3 percent

2004-05 school year: 77 percent

Black students

1998-99 school year: 26.1 percent

2004-05 school year: 53.7 percent

Hispanic students

1998-99 school year: 26 percent

2004-05 school year: 53.1 percent

Asian students

1998-99 school year: 48.5 percent

2004-05 school year: 78.8 percent

American Indian students

1998-99 school year: 29.6 percent

2004-05 school year: 55.8 percent

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com

— Debbie Cafazzo
The News Tribune
http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/education/story/5704467p-5110155c.html


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