2007 STAR test results reveal troubling achievement gaps; Racial disparities are difficult subject for educators, parents to tackle

ByEditorial

In 57 years, all California students will be proficient in reading. Math will take longer.

Progress on STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) has slowed. The 2007 results released Wednesday showed 43 percent of students statewide are proficient or better in reading, a gain of one point from the previous year; math proficiency held steady at 41 percent.

Latino and black students remain far behind and aren’t catching up.

Poverty isn’t the only explanation, said state Superintendent Jack O’Connell, courageously opening a touchy issue. Black and Latino students who aren’t poor do no better than low-income white and Asian students.

“These are not just economic achievement gaps, they are racial achievement gaps,” O’Connell said. “We cannot afford to excuse them; they simply must be addressed.”

How? Educators need to focus on what’s in their power to change. Successful schools set high expectations for all students, step in immediately to help those who are falling behind, hire good teachers and train them in strategies of proven effectiveness, maintain a safe, orderly environment and communicate with parents.

There are models of success, often small enough to track every students’ progress and to build a sense of community.

At LUCHA, a small elementary school in Alum Rock, most students come from low-income, Mexican immigrant families; half of the parents didn’t finish high school. But the school’s STAR scores far exceed the state average:

By fifth grade, 69 percent of students are proficient or better in English language arts, 77 percent in math and 66 percent in science. LUCHA is known for working closely with parents.

Middle schoolers at KIPP Heartwood, a nearly all-minority charter school in Alum Rock, aced STAR: 99 percent of all-seventh graders (98 percent of Hispanics) were proficient or better in English language arts; and 95 percent (93 percent of Hispanics) were proficient or better in algebra, a class normally taken by eighth- or ninth-graders.

“If race and income mattered more than school policy and practice, achievement levels for low-income students and students of color would be pretty much the same from school to school, district to district and state to state. But they are not. There’s wide variation because what we do – and don’t do – in schools matters, and it matters a lot,” said Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, an Oakland-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the achievement of low-income and minority students.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to discuss racial/ethnic achievement gaps without degenerating into Krupke-esque blame sessions. The trouble is the parents. The trouble is racism. The trouble is poverty. The trouble is the media.

O’Connell hopes his Achievement Gap Summit, scheduled for Nov. 13 and 14 in Sacramento, will get beyond finger-pointing, hand-wringing and table-thumping to come up with strategies to help more students succeed in school.

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