Dec 12, 2012

Featured on BlogHer

Dec 9, 2012

NCLB and Race-Based Grading

Image Credit: Flickr/ amboo who?

An NPR headline in my Google Reader feed caught my eye this week, "Grading Kids Based on Race." What? How can that be right? What the heck is that all about? How can kids be graded based on race? What happened to civil rights? That's what the headline makes you think, but when you dig deeper and read the article, the issue gets extremely complex. What if grading based on race is not a violation of civil rights, but instead a guarantee that a student's civil rights are not violated?

To understand what I mean, you have to know something about No Child Left Behind, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001. This law required all students, regardless of ability level, race or gender, to be proficient on an approved standardized test by the year 2014. As a teacher of learning and behaviorally challenged students, the law continues to be extremely frustrating. Some students come to school from homes that provide the stability of three meals per day, new clothing when needed, and the loving support of one or two mentally stable parents. Other students come to school to get their only meal of the day from the cafeteria, sleep on the floor of a one-bedroom apartment with 8-10 other family members, and have absent or addicted parents. To expect students from both backgrounds to learn at the same rate is unreasonable. To expect students with significant learning challenges like dyslexia or dyscaclulia to learn at the same rate as their peers who do not have those challenges is unfair. Quite simply, it goes against the intent of another huge education law, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which attempts to level the playing field by protecting the rights of students with disabilities.

Where does race fit in with all of this? Well, one of the (I think) good things about NCLB is that it requires all schools to collect and share data about student achievement. Prior to 2001, we might have suspected that Hispanic, African-American, Native American and students with disabilities were not doing as well in school as their white peers, but we didn't have any concrete evidence. Now we do. Not only do we know that students of color are not becoming as proficient in reading/math as their white peers, we also know that they are being labeled as disabled much more often than their white peers (maybe because of their lack of proficiency?) When you really look at the big picture it's a bit startling. The data for NCLB is divided into subgroups: 
  • Economically disadvantaged;
  • Special education;
  • Limited English Proficient students (also known as ELL---English Language Learners); and
  • Students from major racial/ethnic groups.
These nicely divided categories make you think that they are reserved for easily categorized kids. Looking at real kids, though, you see that there isn't much that's nice and neat at all. In most cases kids who are labeled as "not proficient" by NCLB standards fit into multiple, if not all categories. The kids I currently work with are primarily African-Americans who qualify for free/reduced lunch, and have learning disabilities/behavior challenges significant enough to qualify them for special education services. They represent 3 out of the 4 subgroups.
Fact: in our current system, many of the kids who live in poverty are the same as the kids who are in special education. Fact: A disproportionate number of the kids in special education are kids of color. Fact: many kids in poverty are kids of color

The kids who aren't proficient aren't lots of different kids in separate little groups; they are one large group of kids who have a lot in common--skin color (not white) and socioeconomic status (living in poverty.) 

No Child Left Behind demands that we have high expectations for the kids who fit into those subgroups. "High expectations" is one of those catch-phrases that goes along with "Rigor and Relevance," treating all students equally, eliminating cultural stereotypes by making sure we expect the same high quality learning from all of our students. It sounds really good on paper, but in reality setting expectations too high can cause serious problems--especially when we set the exact same high expectation for every student.

Here's what I mean: 
Suppose you grew up in a house where it was expected that you learn to play piano. You practiced for 30 min. every day for 4 years between the ages of 5 and 9. Then when you were 9, the government decided that everyone must learn to play piano. You can't graduate from elementary school without being 90% proficient on a Liszt piano concerto. You totally lucked out, because you already have experience playing piano! Other kids, though, didn't even know that the piano existed. You are all the same age, and in the same grade; but you have a distinct advantage when it comes to being proficient because you already know how to play some piano. On a scale of Liszt concerto proficiency that goes from 0 to 10, you're starting at a 4 or 5, while your peers are at a 0. But you all have the exact same amount of time to get to a 10 on that proficiency scale in order to graduate. It hardly seems fair, right?

Apparently, that analogy describes what NPR called, "Grading Kids Based on Race."  Instead of asking students who are in poverty/of color/in special education/English Language Learners/and not proficient to make the exact same progress as white, middle class, non-disabled, English speaking peers some schools are differentiating.  From the NPR piece:
For example, in the District of Columbia, by the end of the 2016/17 academic year, the goal for reading is that there be 70 percent proficiency for black students and that for white students it be 94 percent proficiency. So that's obviously a 24 percentage point difference. But black students are so far behind their white peers right now in D.C. that they're being asked to make a much greater rate of growth.
There are still high expectations, but now the expectations take into account the students' present level of performance. In the piano analogy, you, who had 4 years of piano lessons, are expected to grow from a 4 to a 9 on the proficiency scale. Your peers, who started out not knowing what a piano was, are expected to go from a 0 to a 5. Everyone grows 5 points on the scale. Everyone had the same amount of instruction. Everyone was expected to make significant progress. The school just didn't expect everyone to come from the same background, have the same set of experiences, and end up at exactly the same place. It's a whole different situation. 

So grading based on race--it sounds really, really flawed. But maybe, really, it isn't. Maybe it's a way to level the playing field a little. Maybe it's a starting point that will allow students of color to begin catching up to their white peers. Maybe high--but reachable--expectations will give way to higher expectations in the future.

What do you think about the idea of grading based on race presented in the NPR article? The comment section is open for your thoughts.

Dec 4, 2012

Life in the Fast Lane: Working Mom & 3 Tweens

I can't even remember the last book I read for pleasure. Time to exercise is almost nil. My kids are eating on the go almost nightly because I don't have time to cook. My house....well, at least the laundry is kept up somewhat because we need to wear clothes!

But as busy as I am (as we are as a family) I can't really say I have complaints. Look at the beauty of it all:

My babies are all growing up!

My kids are getting BIG. Each night, my 12 year old son gives me a hug goodnight and stands on his tiptoes so that we are eye to eye. I am just over 5'9", and he is just over 5'4" in 7th grade. Each night, I stare in amazement into his eyes, remembering that not very long ago he fit in the crook of my arm.  We argue about chores, homework, and his lack of ability to remember anything unless it is attached to his body (he would forget his head if it wasn't attached, I swear!) When I can, I watch him play basketball (7 practices and 2-4 games/week) but mostly I drive him to his stuff and pick him up again. When I drop him off, he walks off towards a group of friends from junior high school that I don't know. He interacts with them in a way that is new to me. His age won't reflect it for a few more months, but he truly is a teenager now--from his pimple-dotted nose to his rolling eyes. But he is still my baby, and those nightly hugs when he looks at me, eye to eye, remind us both of what it was like when his favorite things were Blue's Clues and collecting rocks.

My middle daughter is going to be 11 this month. She is in a phase I remember well--the beginning of puberty. She is struggling to feel comfortable with her changing body and experimenting with how she looks. She wants to hide her new femininity by wearing baggy tee shirts, but experiment with it by trying new hair styles. She worries a lot (she always has) but the things she worries about have changed a little. She worries about big picture things more--like saving humanity from _____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite plague.) She started a school bakery--which means whenever we have "free" time on weekends, we are baking. She sells the products after school to her classmates and teachers, then donating the proceeds to our Parent Teacher Organization. Though she is selling sweets, she specified that she wants the funds from the bakery to be limited to the purchase of P.E. equipment. How proud am I? Very. She has an amazing heart, loves sweets, and knows how to balance out that love of sweets by exercising! She also played volleyball for the first time this year, starts basketball in a few weeks, takes tap dancing, hip hop and acting classes, got a part in a play that will be performed in January, AND started playing the trombone. When I am not driving her brother to his stuff, I am driving her to her stuff--classes, practices, rehearsals every single day. Yes, you can call me "Taxi Mom."

My youngest daughter will turn 9 just after the New Year. Much to her older sister's chagrin, she is about to pass her up, height-wise. The most frequent feedback I get about my youngest is this: "She TOWERS over EVERYONE!" Yes, she does. She is literally head and shoulders above the rest of her class, and there is only one boy taller in the grade above her. Yet, despite her height she is still just a third grader. Lately she seems to have regressed to the maturity level of a toddler. Veruca Salt comes to mind--"I want the world, I want the whole world! Don't care how...I want it now!" (Check out the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory video here.)  When my daughter doesn't get what she wants, she throws herself into a tizzy of crying, screaming, and carrying on that really takes me back in time to the toddler years. It is a classic case of tween terror: "I'm getting so big and grown up that I need to regress for a while to the comfort of being little."  She has these fits pretty regularly and I have to send her to her room, ignore her for a while to let her know that I'm not falling for the theatrics, and she can't have what she wants (chocolate at bed time, a cell phone of her own, whatever other inappropriate for an-almost-9-year-old demand that she is making at the moment.) Every 5 minutes or so, I go to her room and remind her that if she keeps crying she will make herself sick. She sniffles some snot and then wails a little louder. I walk away until another 5 minutes have passed. (Any behavior focused teachers out there will recognize this as "neutral prompting"--teaching is an awful lot like parenting!)  Eventually, she comes to the realization that I am not going to give in and she walks out of her room like nothing ever happened. She carries on with her life, and then clings to me all night long. She is wandering out in life: playing basketball on a club team twice a week, taking dance, acting and singing classes, participating in a garden club and a Girl Scout troop...but when she gets home she needs to cuddle in close. Venturing out into the world can be scary business! She really reminds me of a toddler--you know that stage where they learn to walk and can get away from Mama, but when they get too far they come running back to hug your legs, feel safe again.

They are busy. And I am still working at my new job, learning things, and getting to know the system. These are crazy times, but I love it all. Life is good!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...