Saturday, August 18, 2007

Latest tests show racial achievement gap

California results show that it's not poverty that causes the racial disparity -- so all sorts of speculative explanations are trotted out instead -- all explanations except the obvious one. The results are PERFECTLY predictable by the average IQ scores for the groups concerned. And IQ rankings are very little changed no matter what you do.

Whether they are poor or rich, white students are scoring higher than their African American and Latino classmates on the state's standardized tests, results released Wednesday show. And in some cases, the poorest white students are doing better than Latino and black students who come from middle class or wealthy families.

The so-called achievement gap -- the difference in performance between groups of students -- has long been chalked up to a difference in family income. It makes sense that -- regardless of race -- students whose parents have money and speak English would do better in school, on the whole, than students whose families struggle with employment, food and shelter. But this year's test scores show that the difference in academic achievement between ethnic groups is more than an issue of poverty vs. wealth.

On the standardized math tests that public school students take every year from second to 11th grade, 38 percent of white students who qualify for subsidized lunch scored proficient or above, compared with 36 percent of Latino students and 30 percent of black students whose families made too much money to qualify for school meals. On standardized English tests, poor white students did about the same as non-poor Latino and African American students. "These are not just economic achievement gaps," state Superintendent Jack O'Connell said in announcing the test scores from an elementary school in Inglewood. "They are racial achievement gaps, and we cannot continue to excuse them."

It's a new twist on what has become a common theme for O'Connell -- the danger the achievement gap poses for California's economic future. About 56 percent of the state's public school students are Latino or black, so their academic performance now will have a big influence on the work force of the future. "I've been pounding this drum and am going to continue to do so, not just for the moral imperative that we have, but for the economic imperative," O'Connell said. "We're going to focus on (the achievement gap) like a heat-seeking missile during my last three years here as the state superintendent."

In general, test scores were flat compared with last year, but up from five years ago. Forty-one percent of students were proficient in math this year, while 43 percent were proficient in English. Even though students are doing better than five years ago -- when 35 percent were proficient in math and English -- the achievement gap between racial groups has remained a constant, with white and Asian American students scoring higher than their Latino and African American peers.

O'Connell said little Wednesday to explain why the achievement gap persists. "That is the $50 billion question," said Francisco Estrada, public policy director for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, one of several Latino and African American activists who lauded O'Connell for drawing attention to the issue, even while they criticized the state government for not doing enough to improve education for students of color. "Superintendent O'Connell should be commended for not just simply saying, 'We're doing great and let's keep doing what we're doing,' which is what we've heard in other years," Estrada said.

Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, said state policymakers are responsible for the achievement gap that has kept black and Latino students behind because they've done little to put experienced, well-trained teachers and rigorous high-level courses in schools that predominantly serve those groups. "Our system takes poor kids and kids of color -- not just the students of color who are poor -- and provides them less of everything research says makes a difference," she said. "That is the underlying cause of the achievement gap."

While Ali blamed the government for distributing resources inequitably, others said the gap is due to teachers' expectations. "The expectations are not as high for African American students as they are for other students," said Anita Royston, an education consultant who used to work for the Sacramento City Unified School District. That district's school board president once found the same to be true in his Latino family. In 1989, Manny Hernandez said, his son was forbidden from taking college-prep classes in high school. "That kind of tracking took place, not because people were bad or racist, but because that was the expectation," Hernandez said. When he became a school board member some years later, Hernandez wanted to change the district's expectations about who goes to college. The Sacramento City Unified school board increased graduation requirements, so that more students will graduate with more of the courses necessary to enter college.

Sharroky Hollie sees the achievement gap yet another way. He is a professor of teacher education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who focuses on strategies that help Latino and African American students learn. Hollie says the achievement gap reflects a biased education system that doesn't accept behaviors and learning styles common in African American and Latino communities. For example, he said, an African American student who is talkative and frequently gets out of his seat will be seen as disruptive and defiant in most schools. Instead, Hollie said, teachers should develop teaching strategies that work with the student's social and kinesthetic nature, a trait that could be attributed to his cultural background. [Strategies that will work on kids who won't pay attention??] "The first thing we want schools to do is to change their mind-set in seeing these behaviors as cultural and not negative," he said. "The rest of it is: How can the instruction be reshaped to validate and affirm the cultural behaviors as a segue to standards-based learning?"

Testing experts said too many factors affect test scores to attribute the racial differences to any one thing. Jamal Abedi of the UC Davis School of Education said the test questions use complex language that may throw students off, particularly those who are not native English speakers or who speak in the vernacular at home. "Those terms prevent students from understanding the assessment questions," he said. "Therefore, they may not be able to respond."

Wednesday's release shows how students did on the California Standards Tests they took in the spring. Their scores are divided into five categories -- advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. The goal is for all students to reach proficient or advanced. Later this month, the state Department of Education will use these scores to calculate an Academic Performance Index number for each school and to determine whether schools are meeting the requirements set by No Child Left Behind


Stab-proof school uniforms go on sale in Britain to protect pupils from knife attacks

The story below is not the half of it. Some British parents in areas with large black populations send their kids to school in BULLET-proof vests

Parents are sending children to school in stab-proof uniforms to guard against knife crime, it has emerged. They are paying a firm which makes body armour to line blazers and jumpers with a stab-resistant material called Kevlar. The precautions are aimed at protecting pupils from knife attacks as street crime spills over into schools. A wave of stabbings involving teenagers includes the killing of promising footballer Kiyan Prince, who was knifed just yards from his school gates in north London.

Kevlar is a synthetic fibre that can be spun into fabric five times stronger than steel and is used in armoured vests worn by British troops in Iraq. Essex-based firm BladeRunner produces clothing lined with the material for police and security guards. But inquiries from parents have now prompted it to modfify school uniforms.

Barry Samms, one of the firm's directors, said the company initially produced stab-proof hooded tops that were bought by teenagers. It was then asked by parents about the possibility of strengthening school uniforms with Kevlar. The firm now offers to line blazers and jumpers with the material if pupils send in their uniforms. Blazers cost 120 pounds to stab-proof and jumpers 60 to 70. "The blazers and jumpers have come on the back of the hooded tops which we launched in April," said Mr Samms. "Since then we had a small amount of parents contacting us and asking if we could do something similar with their kids' uniforms so we have been modifying them for them. "We have done blazers and jumpers - we have done about half a dozen so far. It's somehing that we can do and it's something we are offering."

He said parents who had inquired about stab-proof clothing were genuinely fearful for their children's safety. He said: "From what I can gather and from speaking to parents it's just peace of mind for them. "I spoke to a lady yesterday whose son was mugged on a bus coming home from school. She has also got two daughters, but she always sends them to school with no money on them and no jewellery."

Police chiefs said the precautions were an "extraordinary step". "The reality of course is that crimes involving knives are proportionately very very low" Alf Hitchcock, of the Association of Chief Police Officers told BBC News Online. "But we do recognise some parents have that fear and some feel they need to go these steps."

Seven boys under the age of 16 have died in knife attacks in the space of just two months this year. Teachers are also demanding to be equipped with stab-proof vests to protect them from attack as they frisk pupils for knives and guns. New laws which recently came into effect will allow staff to conduct forcible searches of students suspected of carrying offensive weapons. But members of the Professional Association of Teachers are saying they should not be made to carry out searches unless they are provided with body armour.


Who cares about punctuation?

Comment from Australia

If punctuation guru Lynne Truss had intended to make the title of her new book ambiguous, then she has succeeded brilliantly. Forget Eats, Shoots and Leaves the surprising international bestseller. This time, Truss has lined up apostrophes for her special attention. The new book is titled The Girl's Like Spaghetti. This is confusing. What the book's title is intending to say is the girl is like spaghetti. It all comes down to the placement of an apostrophe. But for a child looking at the cover, which is pitched for junior primary aged children, they could be forgiven for thinking that The Girl owns something. The point illustrates the need for clarity with punctuation. More than this it is how it is taught that makes it meaningful.

While Truss may find apostrophes pesky little squiggly things, it seems that the apostrophe, like so much punctuation and grammar, is abused. A casual look around any city's signage will find apostrophes missing, floatingly homelessly over a word ending in "s" or placed incorrectly. Then again you'd have to know what is correct to notice.

Understanding apostrophes is just one of the skills in determining a literate child. Others include correct spelling, clear sentence construction and a full suite of punctuation marks. The reality is something very different. On recent state literacy testing, one in four Queensland children at Year 7 level failed the state benchmarks for agreed acceptable minimum literacy standards. Let's be absolutely clear here. The operative word is "minimum". Students who do not make the cut on Queensland's literacy tests are effectively illiterate. This is in no way acceptable.

This uncomfortable reality is one of the reasons why the Federal Government from 2008 will introduce national literacy and numeracy tests at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Queensland parents need to know if their children compare favourably with children in the other states and territories. If they do not do so, then the reasons need to be understood and necessary action taken.

As uncomfortable as it may be for some, the literacy buck stops with teachers. Sure it is unhelpful if shops and advertising appropriate apostrophes, spelling and punctuation for effect. It is up to schools to correct it. On Queensland evidence, 25 per cent of Year 7 students are not performing at even a very basic literacy level. So who teaches them and how are they prepared?

When research was being undertaken into the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, chairman Dr Ken Rowe found that many university students were receiving literacy instruction while they were learning how to be teachers. At the time, Rowe observed: "Many university faculties of education are running remedial English classes for their trainee teachers. Their basic grammar and spelling is that poor." Add to this that up to 30 per cent of students in schools were "simply not achieving to the extent they could or should", Rowe said.

The Queensland Government in the June state Budget promised $35.6 million over four years to improve literacy. That's a lot of apostrophes. Moreover, $10 million over four years has been set aside to meet the literacy and numeracy needs of indigenous students. But unless students can confidently understand how the English language works, apostrophes and all, then this will be money of limited impact. Already the school curriculum, particularly at primary level, is awash with socially based subjects masquerading as a rigorous curriculum. The result of schools looking at animal care, bike safety, dental hygiene and financial management, perhaps all good in themselves, is "literacy lite".

This is why the draft Primary School Charter, released earlier this month by the Australian Primary Principals Association, has recommended four core subjects are essential with art, sport, music and languages in a supplementary role. The core includes: English literacy, Maths and numeracy, Science and Australian history. This makes sense. By uncluttering the curriculum, more time can be given to the inculcation of basic skills in literacy and numeracy. A view expressed by APPA president Leonie Trimper, who has warned that currently, the curriculum is compromising the acquisition of core skills. "Primary schooling marks a cultural milestone in the lives of all young Australians so we must get it right. Children only get one chance to establish a solid foundation on which to build a future," Trimper said on release of the draft Charter.

While Lynne Truss has identified the need for a book about apostrophes, the pity is that it is needed at all. The aim should surely be that all Queensland children know how to spell, punctuate, read and write clearly - let alone amend a rogue apostrophe.


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