Saturday, April 19, 2008

When NCLB and PC collide

Once upon a time, a school's Academic Performance Index (API) score was determined by the collective scores of the entire student body of a particular school. If one sub-group was performing badly (usually black and Hispanic students), the superior scores of another sub-group (usually white and Asian students) could cover up the deficiency.

One of the consequences of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, passed in 2002, was that in addition to a school's overall API score, the API scores of each subgroup had to be calculated and published as well. Look at the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) of any school in California, and you will see a detailed breakdown of these API scores. In addition to ethnic groups, there are also breakdowns for low socioeconomic students and English learners. This has prompted school teachers and administrators to begin focusing their attention on raising the scores of these low-performing sub-groups. One strategy that has been tried in the past is for an administrator or teacher to pull aside all the students of a certain low-performing sub-group and talk to them about their scores and what can be done to raise them. Every time this has been done, controversy has followed because the diversity crowd objects to students of a certain race being singled out. The ridiculous part about all this is that these parents' children are singled out by race every day.

This has happened once again, this time in the Sacramento area. In the Rio Linda Union School District, Madison Elementary principal, Jana Fields, spoke to all the black students of her school in an effort to stress to them the importance of doing well on the upcoming STAR testing. Mrs. Fields was also planning to have a similar meeting with the school's Hispanic students as well. That second meeting never happened, because soon after Mrs. Fields met with her school's black students, all hell broke loose.

Black parents complained, and the local fishwrap and T.V. news stations picked up on the story. You must register to read articles from the Sacramento Bee, so I have pasted the AP wire story in its short entirety:
RIO LINDA, Calif. -- A Sacramento area school official has issued an apology after an elementary school principal summoned black students to a meeting to urge them to improve their test scores.

Gloria Hernandez, educational services director for the Rio Linda School District, said Friday that the district offered "sincere apologies to all students and families who were offended" by principal Jana Fields' decision to convene a meeting of fourth, fifth and sixth grade black students to discuss their test scores.

One parent, Marie Townsend, says Fields should have met with all students, regardless of race, who were performing poorly on state tests rather than singling out blacks.

A meeting that Fields planned to have with Hispanic students to discuss their test scores has been canceled.
Very sanctimonious of you Ms. Townsend, but the scores are not broken down according to who is performing badly on the exams, the scores are broken down by race. I fail to see how there is anything wrong with the principal dealing with students' test scores based on race, especially since under NCLB, that is exactly what the state of California, and the federal government both require schools and school districts to do when they compile and report their test scores. A quick review of the state scores for the last several years on the SARC for Madison Elementary confirms the necessity of Mrs. Fields' meeting with her black students, along with her canceled meeting that was planned for her Hispanic students (click to enlarge):

I sincerely hope that the principal, Mrs. Fields, is not made a sacrifice at the altar of political correctness. I also hope that in the future, school districts and their mealy-mouthed spokescritters cease making pathetic mea culpas for doing what they should be doing all the time, and that is to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Lord knows they already keep enough statistics on the elephant - letting the elephant know about it is probably a good idea.

Good Day to You, Sir


The Vegas Art Guy said...

Either way the kids lose. Sucks doesn't it. Although breaking the scores down like NCLB does make sure that kids don't get lost in the system.

Don, American said...

"The scores are broken down by race." Isn't that lovely? Government sanctioned racism. "Can't we all just get along? Apparently not.

Darren said...

Excellent post. Oddly, I hadn't heard this story before I read it here.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Excellent post. I seriously doubt most folks in the general public even realized that all the NCLB scores are broken down by race. I remember mentioning it to my mother at one time and she was aghast. I've always found it hypocritical that we're constantly being hammered on to treat kids of all races exactly the same, but then the government turns around and breaks everything down by race.

Law and Order Teacher said...

When you break down scores by race it isn't necessarily a bad thing. NCLB requires that students of all races perform. The fact that the students scores are based on race simply shows where the emphasis is needed. I would hope that the principal would follow the meeting with some strategy to bring up the scores of those that are low. As you said "letting the elephant know about it is probably a good idea." The ostrich strategy that has been practiced by public schools obviously hasn't worked. Maybe it's time we confronted the problem and took action to correct it.

Anonymous said...

We (the department I work in) were encouraged to show scores broken down by race(hoping to provide motivation as our most successful has done). Most of us did show them. The response from some of my African-American students was the usual cry of racism.

The plain truth is not truth, it's is racism.

Anonymous said...

In my school, the underperforming subgroup is low income. Unfortunately, I cannot tell low income students by looking at the color of their skin, and the school is prohibited from identifying them for me. So, I know I need to help and encourage them, I just don't know who "them" is.

teachercicely said...

As a teacher, it is sad that test scores are still broken down by race. There isn't anything wrong with finding common threads in the academic performance of students; however, I am very disappointed with the desicion of the principal to hold assemblies based on race and low testing groups. How assanine can one be in a position of leadership? Is it no longer common sense to know how stigmatizing this kind of alienation can be? Parents should be raising hell and teachers should have taken a stand against this modern-day type of racism and poor judgment by an administrator. Disciplinary should have been taken so that she has plenty of time to think about her actions. Students have consequences for their actions, and so should administrators. Someone in this district (perhaps superintendent) needs to take a deeper look at the thought process behind these types of decisions. Anyone who feels this move by the principal was okay obviously is not a minority and has never felt the oppression of being made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin. You want to talk about race?...Then let's talk but remember to keep it real -otherwise it's pointless.

Chanman said...

Teachercicely -
As long as the state and the federal government continue to classify these students' test scores by race, how can you blame the principal for addressing the students by race?

I have been to countless teacher development days put on by our superintendent where we listen to guest speakers (who are usually black) tell us how black students learn differently and think differently. Is that racist as well? Should the superintendent be fired? You can't pick and choose your outrage. That's not "keeping it real" either.

Mister Teacher said...

I'd like to see the scores broken down by height. Do taller kids score better than shorter kids?
What about by hair color? Could the principal call all blondes to a meeting and ask them to darken their hair to improve test scores??

Mr. J said...

The true achievement gap is between the priviledged and the not so priviledged...the children who are priviledged experience things that children, who are far less priviledged, will never experience. The children who should have been in that "assembly" should have been from all ethnicities with the primary issue being how to take a test that has vocabulary with which very few underpriviledged children are familiar. Children who have little background knowledge of the vocabulary used in government generated assessments are forever at a loss.

Chanman said...

Sorry Mr. J, but there are no "Privileged" or "Non-Privileged" categories in the scoring breakdown on our state tests. It is broken down mainly by race.

I'm not saying I agree with it, but that is the system in which we educators must work. I still posit that it is ridiculous that this principal should be in hot water for singling out kids in the same fashion that our state and federal government does.

sciencehound said...

I have taught in Philadelphia and in Reading, Pennsylvania. Low-performing students are most often representative of low socio-economic status. We are confusing this factor with "race" because so-called minority groups are over-represented in the economically disadvantaged category.

It would be far more accurate to include groupings according to socioeconomic status, but we remain fixated on the paradigm of race.

Further, academic "affirmative action" (usually by "minority" administrators, passing students who have not, in fact, passed courses) in fact, cripple the futures of students who are misled about the quality of their skills.