|2007-10-04 Articles |
|Despite Efforts Achievement Gap Static|
|October 04, 2007|
The help-wanted ad Guilford County Schools should be running could read "Wanted: ideal teachers to erase achievement gap. Must be able to serve as interpreter and counselor." And, the fine print should say, "Teachers are expected to be as flexible as possible because we might arbitrarily move you from school to school and give other teachers, who we view as more important than you, more money after you have worked for us for years."
The Achievement Gap Committee, led by school board member Deena Hayes, met on Tuesday, Oct. 2 to discuss what the school system should do to narrow the achievement gap between black and white students in Guilford County Schools.
Chief Accountability and Research Officer Gongshu Zhang didn't mince words when he said, "we talk a lot and now we need to take action."
Part of the problem may be that some board members need to be woken up, literally. School board member Walter Childs, who is a committee member, took a snooze while NC A&T State University Associate Professor Muktha Jost gave a presentation about what Jost and teachers think the contributing factors are to the achievement gap to the other two school board members serving on the committee – Nancy Routh and Darlene Garrett.
One item that jumped out at most of the committee members, and to staff, is that teachers are treating students the same regardless of their backgrounds. Jost said it's history that makes black students unequal.
Routh said, "Every child comes to school with a different background."
"We don't take the time to find out what they have brought with them," Routh said.
Routh rejected the notion that students don't have a broad vocabulary, and said the vocabulary that students bring to school is from their environment. Because of that, Routh said, teachers need to be able to interpret what the students are saying and to understand where the student is academically.
"We start right in with 'here's your word list this week, this is what you need to know by Friday,'" Routh said. "We need to know what the child already knows before speaking something new into their lives."
Routh also expressed her anguish with the school system and how it focuses too much on how other counties are performing on state and federal tests, rather than making sure students understand what they are learning and why it applies to them.
According to 2006-2007 test results, there were no dramatic differences in how black students and white students performed on state tests compared to the 2005-2006 school year. In most cases, the test scores improved, but the gap still exists.
Results in reading for third grade through eighth grade students remained the same with 76 percent of black students passing and 93 percent of white students passing. For third grade through eighth grade students tested in math, 51 percent of black students passed the state test in 2006-2007, up 5 percent from 2005-2006. White students also improved about 3 percent from last year, scoring 84 percent in math in 2006-2007.
The passing rate in reading for black students in 10th grade decreased slightly from 46.4 percent in 2005-2006 to 45 percent in 2006-2007. Of the white 10th grade students, 79.7 percent passed in 2005-2006, while 73.1 percent passed in 2006-2007.
For 10th graders, math scores for black students rose from 71.8 percent to 73.9 percent, and scores for white students increased from 90.8 percent to 93 percent.
Chief Diversity Officer Monica Walker said there is enough data there to do something about the gap and that there is no need to add any more to what the schools already have collected. The new buzzword in the school system is awareness.
"We have an awareness; what do we do now?" Walker asked.
Following up Walker's comment, Routh said if teachers were allowed to use that awareness and not sweat over the pacing guide, a guide that outlines what a teacher should be teaching and when they should be teaching it, then students may learn more comfortably. There is a sign for teachers that says, "rush, rush, rush," Routh said.
Mission Possible, a teacher incentive program used by the school system to lure highly qualified teachers to teach in low-performing schools, was then brought up.
"We could debate the pros and cons of Mission Possible all day," Routh said, adding, "I'm bothered by things that we do like Mission Possible. I'm not bothered when we say we are going to pay the teacher more money, but when we say we want to attract people to work at these schools. Do you think kids don't listen? And parents don't listen?"
Routh continued, saying she thinks having a lot of fanfare for the introduction of a program like Mission Possible sends a message to the students in those schools that there is something wrong with them.
"It leaves a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach," Routh said.
Zhang pointed out that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has helped the adults see that they are not doing their jobs. While the teachers say it is not helping them in the classroom, the law has helped principals and administrators point out the flaws in education that have been around for a long time.
"We need to be objective and fair," Zhang said. "We all know this achievement gap is measured by current standardized test. It only reflects a certain part of knowledge and skill."
Zhang said he thinks there are three things the school system should take into account when assessing data: It needs to be educationally sound, technically correct and politically right.
"We need to take care of the minority group, take care of the disadvantaged group, we never had that until NCLB," Zhang said.
The committee continued to talk about bridging the understanding between teachers and students who come from different socio-economic backgrounds and how to deal with the communication barrier.
After Childs took his power nap, he said he thought the schools should take a look at lengthening the school days so that teachers could have more staff development and get paid more for their work.