Local Educators Confront Black Achievement Gap

Louise Esola, North County Times (Escondido, Cal.), Feb. 2, 2006

SAN DIEGO—Local educators were told Wednesday that they need to understand “dis” before they can help raise test scores of black students: ebonics.

More than 100 hundred parents, teachers and administrators attended a conference at the San Diego County Office of Education to zero in on sagging test scores for black students, who have historically performed below their white classmates.

The daylong conference was intended to address the needs of black students, said Darlene Willus, co-chairwoman and founder of the Concerned Parents Alliance, College Bound San Diego, one of the several organizations that put the workshop together.

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The bridge for the achievement gap between white and black students lies in the understanding and acceptance of African-American English—a vernacular that has long been rejected, leading to the isolation of black students, said keynote speaker Noma LeMoine, director of the Academic English Mastery and Closing the Achievement Gap branch of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

LeMoine, a black educator and linguists expert, said scores for black students have lagged mostly because the language they were raised speaking—ebonics—is not accepted in the traditional education system.

Ebonics, a term derived from the words ebony and phonics, is known among linguists as African-American English, she said.

The language is composed of grammar and spelling rules used by the various languages of Western African—where 85 percent of slaves originated and where there are no “th” and “r” sounds or side-by-side consonants—and standard English vocabulary, LeMoine said.

The end product? Words such as “dis” rather than “this,” “des” rather than “desk,” and “sista” rather than “sister,” she said, citing a long list of examples that combine African Niger-Congo language rules and English vocabulary. In Niger-Congo language, phrases and words are structured consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel. (The word “dis” or “diss” also is in wide use as meaning “disrespect.”)

“Kids will say, ‘I put my tes on yo des,’ ” LeMoine said.

But in the classroom, such talk is often deemed to be slang, ignorant, or lazy, she added, making black students feel they are left out by the education system.

Black speech then leads teacher to have low expectations of students, she said. “You hear teachers say, ‘How can we teach them when they can’t even talk?’ ” Black students, as a result, are often deemed unteachable, she added.

LeMoine said she doesn’t expect schools to teach ebonics, which she said is not accepted in academic and professional circles.

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