| Volume 62 | Number 3
Closing Achievement Gaps
EL Study Guide / Closing Achievement Gaps
Confront the Status Quo
Articles in this issue make clear that to close achievement gaps, we must scrutinize the status quo. Julie Landsman (“Confronting the Racism of Low Expectations,” p. 28) examines the ways in which schools—often unwittingly—make assumptions about certain races or cultural groups. Distribute Landsman's instrument for assessing how well structures and teacher attitudes at your school reflect positive expectations and a welcoming attitude toward nonwhite students (“Does Your School Have High Expectations for All Students?”, p. 32). Analyze and discuss the results.
When Kathy Maloney and Terrie Saunders (“Mentoring Minority Students,” p. 78) looked critically at their English honors courses, they found that minorities were avoiding such classes because they felt isolated and unsupported. Take an in-depth look at the extent to which minority and low-socioeconomic status students in your school have been represented in challenging classes, gifted programs, and groups like the National Honor Society over the last five years. How does this representation correlate with the racial/economic composition of your student body? Conversely, examine—according to race, income, and gender—which students are placed in special education and in special disciplinary programs. Discuss the procedures your school uses to place students and think of ways you might work to eliminate any bias.
Authors in this issue debunk the idea that because legal segregation in schools is gone, students of all backgrounds have an equal chance to achieve. Janice E. Hale (“How Schools Shortchange African American Children,” p. 34) and Patricia Gándara (“Building Bridges to College,” p. 56) both discuss how social capital—especially family earnings and parent education—affects student performance. The unacceptable high school dropout rate and low rates of college graduation for Latino students have roots in Latino families' lower earnings and lack of education. These realities also affect the families' attitudes toward participating in activities at school. Try these steps as a group:
- Become familiar with your students' parents' socioeconomic situations, education backgrounds, and kinds of jobs.
- Identify the poorest students and the parents with the least education in your school/class and reach out by sending a team of teachers to talk with them at home. Invite these parents personally to school events.
- Identify skills and knowledge that these family members can teach students. Many immigrants have impressive skills but can find only low-wage jobs in the United States. Invite some parents to come to school to teach workshops or give presentations showcasing these gifts to students. Consider arranging an event on teacher conference days in which parent presenters share their skills with students—such as making items from their country or explaining the history and culture of a region of the world.
Scrutinize the Tests
W. James Popham (“A Game Without Winners,” p. 46) claims that most standardized tests are so skewed that they measure students' socioeconomic status (SES) more than achievement. Test Popham's assertion by examining any standardized test used in your school with an eye for what Popham calls “SES-linked” items:
- Assign teachers in pairs to check out a portion of the test questions. Could vocabulary or content in this question represent the life experiences of a middle-class/rich child more than those of a poor child?
- Pool your results to determine what percentage of all test questions appear to contain socioeconomic bias.
- Present your findings to the school as a whole. Discuss how your school can advocate higher up in the system for unbiased tests that more truly reflect student learning.
Extend Your Reach
Both Paul E. Barton's “Why Does the Gap Persist?” (p. 8) and Richard Rothstein's “The Achievement Gap: A Broader Picture” (p. 40) reveal through research how, as Rothstein notes, “conditions that improve learning in and out of school are intertwined.” Particularly if you teach in a poor community, brainstorm ways in which you can reach beyond the bounds of instruction to improve conditions that impede learning.
Look at Barton's list of “Factors That Correlate with Student Achievement” (p. 10) and pick one of the eight out-of-school factors (such as television watching, hunger and nutrition, and parent participation) that affect learning. Brainstorm realistic actions you can take—either with your school population or through broader advocacy for change—to confront that factor.
For example, to combat poor nutrition, you could provide a midmorning snack for all elementary students; parents and teachers can volunteer to bring food, or you might solicit donations from supermarkets. Pick one action and commit yourself to trying it.
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Copyright © 2004 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development