Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Test Scoring Cheering Rallies by Race

This is freaking brilliant. Not.

Concord, CA. high school tries to close achievement gap through Message List

Academic pep talks are color coded
By Shirley Dang

With schools under increasing pressure to improve test scores, Mount
Diablo High School has resorted to a new way to motivate students: by

The Concord campus on Friday held separate assemblies for students of
different ethnicities to talk about last year's test results and the
upcoming slew of state exams this spring.

Jazz music and pictures of Martin Luther King greeted African-American
students, whereas Filipino, Asian and Pacific Islander students saw
flags of their foreign homelands on the walls. Latinos and white
students each attended their own events, too, complete with statistics
showing results for all ethnicities and grade level.

"They started off by saying jokingly, 'What up, white people,'" said
freshman Megan Wiley, 14. Teachers flashed last year's test scores and
told the white crowd of students to do better for the sake of their

"They got into, 'You should be proud of your race,'" Wiley said. "It
was just weird."

Several parents later told the Times that the meetings smacked of
segregation resurrected.

"Why did they have to divide the students by race?" said Filipino
parent Claddy Dennis, mother of freshman Schenlly Dennis. "In this
country, everybody is supposed to be treated equally. It sounds like
racism to me."

Principal Bev Hansen said she held the student assemblies by ethnicity
this year and last year to avoid one group harassing another based on
their test scores. The 1,600-student campus, one of the most
ethnically diverse high schools in the Mt. Diablo school district, is
roughly half Latino, 30 percent white and 15 percent black, with Asian
nationalities rounding out the mix.

Last year, the school improved its academic performance index score,
largely based on test scores, to 613 out of 1,000. Among the races,
Asians scored highest. Whites earned a 667. African-Americans scored a
580, whereas Latinos earned a 571.

"I don't want students being teased," Hansen said.

Ultimately, however, Hansen said she did not know why parents seemed
so concerned. The state has reported scores based on race for years.
The school assemblies simply reflected those same categories in
reporting the numbers to students, she said.

"In this country, race is a very uncomfortable topic, and it's time we
got over it," Hansen said.

Jack Jennings, president of the National Center on Education Policy, a
leading education research group, called the racially divided meetings
potentially illegal and dangerous.

"It's segregation by race, whatever the motivation," Jennings said,
noting that he had never heard before of a school or district doing
such a thing.

He described the assemblies as a unique byproduct of the intense focus
on testing.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools, school districts
and states must report and are accountable for scores in reading and
math for specific races, English learners, special-education students
and economically disadvantaged students. All statistically significant
groups must show continuous test score improvement.

"It shows that there's so much pressure to raise test scores that
teachers and administrators are trying to do anything they can,"
Jennings said. "Sometimes what they choose is not very wise."

Last spring, California High School in the San Ramon Valley pulled
Latino and black students in for pretesting pep talks but not white
students. The principal apologized after parents flooded the mayor's
office with complaints.

Mount Diablo sophomore Hector Rivera, 15, said he enjoyed the speakers
at his Latino student assembly.

"The way they were speaking, it was intended to make people feel
good," Rivera said. "I guess it was to inspire everybody, like you can
do better."

Hispanic students made a 50-point gain on the state's 1,000-point
achievement scale. White students improved by 46 points, whereas
English learners posted the greatest rise, more than 80 points.

"There's nothing negative about these assemblies," said school
secretary Arnetta Jones, who is African-American and helped organize
the assembly for African-American students. "It wasn't, in any way, to
put people down."

African-American students raised their score on the state academic
performance index by 61 points. "We showed an incredible amount of
improvement on our test scores," Jones said.

The event also celebrated black culture, Jones said. Two students
performed a dance with choreography by African-American dance
visionary Alvin Ailey. A black pastor from Bay Point delivered a
message. One student read a poem that is the mantra of a black
fraternity from UC Berkeley.

"That kind of set the tone," Jones said.

However, some African-American students interpreted the school's
messages differently.

Freshman Jason Lockett, 14, said he saw the pictures of Martin Luther
King and the words, "Black Power" projected overhead. But the scores,
despite being an increase over last year, still lag other races'.

"It was to compare us and say how much dumber we were than everybody
else," Lockett said.

Principal Hansen said although some students were upset, they deserve
to know the truth about lower test scores.

"We need help in closing the achievement gap," Hansen said. "This is
one tiny step."

Staff writer Eric Louie contributed to this report. Shirley Dang
covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or sdang@....

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