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FW: [ca-resisters] diversity disadvantage

Note, this same point was made in the Orange County Register series over a
year ago. Maybe they'll start to get it ??

Posted on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003
Schools say diversity tracking allows more room to fail
By Suzanne Pardington

As jazz plays softly in the background, students in Terry Dunn's sixth-grade
math class at Riverview Middle School in Bay Point work independently on
basic arithmetic skills they never mastered in elementary school.

One boy taps his fingers on the table to count while doing a worksheet of
addition and subtraction. Dunn leans over a girl who speaks little English
to help her in Spanish with multiplication.

The class is as diverse as the school: white, black and Latino students
struggle together to catch up before they can advance to higher-level math
skills that state and federal education watchdogs now expect of them.

Diverse schools with low test scores such as Riverview are just what federal
lawmakers had in mind when they wrote the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.
By tracking the performance of each student group, lawmakers plan to hold
each school accountable for every student and boost the achievement of
groups that tend to fall behind.

But there is a flip side to the new rules: The schools the law is designed
to help also are more likely to fail simply because they have more chances
-- because they are measured in more ways. Failing in one category draws a
school a failing grade overall.

A Times analysis reveals that black, poor, Latino, disabled and
English-learning students had the hardest time reaching the new federal
Adequate Yearly Progress goals.

Riverview must track the performance of African American, American Indian,
Latino, white, students who are poor or have disabilities, as well as
English learners and school totals in math and English. Participation rates
must reach 95 percent in each subject in all those categories as well. That
gives Riverview 28 chances to fail.

By contrast, Stone Valley Middle School in Alamo is responsible for one
group -- white students -- in addition to school totals, giving the school
only eight chances to fail.

"The more subgroups you have, the higher the probability is that one of them
won't make the number, just by chance," said Eva Baker, co-director of the
National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at

Some educators say the federal system is unfair to diverse schools but Baker
supports the intent of the law.

"You really do want to make sure that kids who have been ignored or not
given enough attention in the past, their performance counts as much as
anybody else's," she said.

The new federal requirements pose an especially difficult challenge for
Riverview, where all the ethnic and educational groups fell short of the
federal goals in 2002-03. Only six out of 135 black students and one of 132
students with disabilities scored proficient in math. Three students with
disabilities and 19 out of 331 English learners met the mark on English
tests. It was the only school in the region where white students failed to
reach the academic targets.

The school's low test scores are disappointing and puzzling to Riverview
teachers, who say they have been working hard to boost achievement with
little result. In 2000, the school made such big gains in the state's
rankings that teachers won awards of $5,000 each. Since then, the school has
failed to meet both state and federal performance goals, however.

"When the test scores show up as bleak numbers, it depresses me," said Dunn,
who is in his fifth year teaching math at Riverview. "I think how completely
inadequate it is for telling the story of who these kids are and what this
school is."

He teaches eighth-grade algebra and a math improvement class for
sixth-graders who need help with basic skills. He sees a wide range of math
skills from students of all ethnic groups.

Riverview's new principal, Denise Rugani, is reluctant to point fingers
about why the test scores are so low.

She said a positive result of the new federal Adequate Yearly Progress
requirements is that they are bringing to light discrepancies in student

The school has launched what she calls a "three-pronged attack" targeting
academics, behavior and community relations. It has started remedial math
and reading programs for students who have fallen behind, plus before- and
after-school tutoring. A new behavior program has made rules and
consequences consistent throughout the school.

Rugani also is trying to beef up parent involvement; fewer than 10 parents
typically attend parent association meetings.

"You have to look at the kids you have and ask: How do you meet their
needs?" she said. "If we've done something, and it's not working, we have to
analyze what's not working and what we can do to improve.

"Within three years, I hope to see huge improvements around here."

Congressman George Miller, D-Martinez, who played a central role in shaping
the federal law, said he has visited Riverview several times and is aware of
the challenges the school faces. Teachers there are enthusiastic and
"incredibly involved," he said.

"I don't have the answer, but you've got to look and say: What is it we are
doing wrong?" he said. "The school district now is on notice that they have
a system here that across the board isn't making the grade, and you may want
to rethink some of those models. It's not easy."

Riverview teacher Lea Nielsen said it is frustrating when teachers work hard
and the test scores turn out so low. She believes the school is headed in
the right direction, but she said it is not fair to expect Riverview to
compete with schools in affluent areas. A comparison with schools that have
similar demographics would be better, she said.

In her core English and social studies class, Nielsen has English learners
as well as students in the Gifted and Talented Education program.

"If the student goes home and does not speak English, or they don't go to
bed until 2 a.m. or don't eat breakfast in the morning, there's just a big
difference," she said.

Students with disabilities pose a different problem because they are held to
the same academic standards as other students. Only students with the most
severely cognitively disabilities can take an alternate assessment.

At O'Hara Park Middle School in Oakley, students with disabilities were the
only group that did not hit the federal targets. Principal Jeanne Donovan
said the low test scores of students with disabilities are a big concern at
the school.

Last year, the school had about 120 special education students, most of them
with learning and speech and language disabilities.

"You have to remember that many of these kids are three to five years below
grade level, but they have to take at-grade-level tests," she said. "At the
same time, they have to score at the proficient level. This is a big
challenge not only for the students, but for us."

Dunn, the Riverview math teacher, said there are deeper questions about
class and poverty and how schools are structured that need to be considered.
Instead, lawmakers are looking for a quick fix, he said.

"We're trying to deal with really complex problems that people have been
trying to solve for a really long time," Dunn said. "It's not like, 'Aw
shucks, they caught us, now we better get to work.'"

But Miller said the federal law has helped uncover what needs to be done in
public schools.

"This has caused us to refocus and think about how we are teaching," he
said. "That was a very important goal of this because so many children were
falling through the cracks."

George Sheridan