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February 1, 2007
Vol. 64
No. 5

The Best of the Blog

<BQ> In this column, we publish selected comments from the ASCD blog and from letters to the editor. Some comments are condensed for space or edited for clarity. To join the conversation, go to www.ascd.org/blog or e-mail us at el@ascd.org . </BQ>

A Tenacious Gap

Readers commented on the achievement gap:
Everyone keeps talking about helping all students achieve, but no one ever singles out the students, whatever their race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background, who come to school, do a good job, do well on tests, and graduate on time. How many of these students leave the education system with their needs unmet, their potential blunted, and their futures limited because we did not challenge them to excel and explore new vistas or provide the resources for them to be able to do so?
Our focus is always on getting the students who scored Unsatisfactory and Basic into the middle category, Proficient. No one is talking about getting the Proficient into the Advanced category, and the Advanced into the Exemplary level. In more than 30 years in education, I've seen resources spent on the weak and mediocre, whereas those who desire to excel must make it on their own. This is probably the greatest travesty in our education system.
—Posted by C. Law
Saying that the minority achievement gap can be closed by addressing teacher quality is like saying that flying to the moon can be accomplished by dropping a match in a gas tank. It is so much more complex.
To make ourselves feel better, we hold up a few schools that close the gap as “diamonds in the rough.” Meanwhile, we have relegated so many students and families to second-class lives. I encourage folks to readThe Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol and ask whether the achievement gap is due to teacher quality alone.
In addition, what about schools that focus resources on the students closest to passing to help boost the school average? This calculated practice of survival is allowing the gap to widen.
—Posted by Chris Willis
Has anyone ever looked at the “tutoring gap”? I would love to know what researchers could find about the effect that tutoring paid for by parents has on the achievement gap. Many middle-class parents can and do pay to have their children move ahead and stay ahead. Many poor and working-class parents do not have the financial resources to give their children the extra boost that tutoring can provide or to compensate for an inadequate teacher. PhD thesis, anyone?
—Posted by Chris

Language Learning

In “A Catch-22 for Language Learners” (November 2006), Wayne Wright describes the problems assessing English Language Learners under NCLB. A reader responded:
Thank you, Wayne, for a well-reasoned discussion of an issue many of us who work with bilingual students find extremely frustrating. There are, however, some partial solutions. Many states, Massachusetts included, have developed statewide benchmark and outcome documents for English language learning. Statewide assessments have been developed to measure growth in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The benchmark document is aligned with the English language arts curriculum framework, so it is a standards-based assessment, as required by NCLB. One solution could be to use the English proficiency assessment as a gatekeeper for the statewide reading or English language arts tests.
In other words, students would not be required to take the standard statewide assessment until they scored at the highest level of proficiency on the English proficiency assessment. This ensures that students are not required to take a test until their English proficiency is at a level where it is reasonable to assume they could pass the test. And there would still be accountability for their progress on the English proficiency test.
Including a foreign language test requirement for all students would be another way to reinforce the importance and need for greater language competence in this country.
—Posted by Sue McGilvray-Rivet
Wright Replied:
Sue, what you propose makes perfect sense to me, but one problem is the complete lack of alignment between the state ELL test and the state reading/language arts test in many states. In theory, when students pass the ELL test, they should be at the level necessary to pass the state reading test. But we have cases where the ELL test is much easier than the state reading test and other cases where students who fail the ELL test nonetheless are able to pass the regular state reading test. This shows just how little we know about testing in general, and testing ELLs in a valid and reliable manner in particular.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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