Solving the Achievement Gap

After my earlier blog post on the unimpressive School Report Card for Madison East High School, one commenter suggested that I propose possible solutions.  Others suggested that reliance on test scores does not give a complete picture of what is going on at any high school.  Both sets of comments are valid and will be addressed here.

Regarding the validity of test scores, while there is an abundance of evidence that the quality of a student’s education should be evidenced by far more than a single point in time test score, it is also important to note that the School Report Cards recently issued by the State of Wisconsin also contain other relevant data such as graduation rates, which simply cannot be dismissed so easily.  Moreover, many who fear focusing on test scores do so because they do not want teacher pay and evaluation to be based on single point in time testing.  While this point of view is valid, it does not address the following factors which must be considered if we want to improve the education of our neediest children:

  • While there are many fine teachers in our schools, those who choose to defend ALL teachers, do so ignoring the harsh reality that some teachers simply are not very good, as is true in any profession.
  • Teachers are not the only factor in a child’s education.  It is well known that there is a shortage of quality administrators and no organization succeeds without quality leadership.
  • The continual degradation of funding to our schools has increased class sizes and degraded the tools available (e.g., new books, technology, variety of learning tools) to teachers and their students.
  • Those who attack testing tend to avoid the tougher question: how would they evaluate the quality of schools?

So, tests should be improved, they should not be single point in time tests, and ALL school staff, from the District Administrator, to the classroom aides, should be factored into the credit and blame for good and bad educational results.  The bottom line is that if significant numbers of students are not graduating high school prepared for college and/or a career, the whole educational system has failed them.

But, what about non-test evaluation of results?  One of the best ways to evaluate educational success is whether schools are using a wide variety of tools to address the wide ranging needs and learning styles of their widely varied student body.  This past weekend I was fortunate to chaperone my son’s Madison East High School Engineering Club, as they took part in the Region IV conference of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Trymathlon and Robotics competition in Chicago. http://www.nsbe.org

It might surprise some to know that NSBE has nearly 30,000 members.  Its stated and critical mission is: “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.” As its Executive Director, NAACP Vice President Carl Mack, put it so eloquently during his keynote address, “If we can put 100,000 kids in basketball camps, we can put 100,000 kids in engineering camps.” This mission and attitude is exactly what I witnessed as the Madison East High School team competed and participated in this conference after countless hours of after school preparation.

One thing test scores never measure is how well students work with each other, and in particular, with those who are different  from them.  Both competitions required team work and rewarded it.  Unlike the vast majority of high schools who competed at the NSBE regional conference, Madison East’s teams were multi-racial and multi-cultural.  It was beautiful to watch how they comfortably participated in the conference and how the vastly majority African-American participants welcomed Madison East’s integrated team.   This welcome became even more clear as Madison East, you know the one with the not very good School Report Card, came home with a second place finish in the Trymathlon (which includes testing in Math, Physics, and Black History) and a 1st place finish in the Robotics competition.

A look at the smiles on their faces after receiving their awards will not be found on any School Report Card, but educators and policy makers must find ways to recognize the achievements of students such as these, and teachers such as Cynthia Chin, whose dedication to these students and to closing the achievement gap, is truly remarkable.Image

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3 thoughts on “Solving the Achievement Gap

  1. I would add (without disagreement to the substance) that a significant issue is the way the huge amounts of data generated by successive years of standardized testing is not used diagnostically. The questions on standardized tests represent specific kinds of skills and knowledge. All of that data should be tracked longitudinally so we can identify rates of progress for individual students. We should use data about student progress (or the lack of it) to identify best practices and to target specific areas of teacher professional development. I would even use data around student progress as a point in evaluating teacher performance.

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