Many Still Left Behind

Charlotte Hsu, San Bernardino County Sun, Jan. 4, 2007

Affluent children score higher than poor children on standardized tests, and Asians and whites do better than blacks and Latinos.

The No Child Left Behind Act, an education law signed by President Bush in 2002, was supposed to help change that. But as Congress prepares to reconsider the legislation this year, there are few indications that achievement gaps have been shrinking.

In California, middle-class students’ performance on state exams continues to exceed poor students’ performance at about the same rate as three years ago, according to a report the Policy Analysis for California Education research center released late last year.

The difference persists at all grade levels in elementary and middle school, according to the report.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that across the nation in 2004, white teens outperformed their black and Latino counterparts in math and English at roughly the same rate as they did in 1999.

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Pixie Hayward Schickele, who chairs the California Teachers Association’s work group on No Child Left Behind, says the law points out a problem—differences in achievement—without providing solutions.

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Local gaps persist

In San Bernardino City Unified, San Bernardino County’s largest school district, test scores for every group of students have risen since 2002, according to the California Department of Education.

But the achievement gap is not closing.

White students’ gains outpaced those of blacks and Latinos, and poor children and children whose parents did not finish high school were still doing worse than their peers. Disabled students and children not fluent in English still had the lowest scores.

At the high school level, where differences in achievement are usually more pronounced, the gap between the percentage of whites and Latinos—and between whites and blacks—who were proficient in math and English remained in double digits at four of the district’s five largest high schools.

The only exception was San Bernardino High School, which had the lowest overall test scores among the five.

Improving teaching

Though the achievement gap remains wide, some people who work in education say No Child Left Behind has been valuable because it makes public the vexing issue of inequity in education.

With schools now reporting test results, educators feel pressure to do more for those in need—special education students, poor children and some minorities, said Ronald Powell, administrator for an agency that works with area school districts and the county Superintendent of Schools Office to educate disabled children.

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Patterns of success

Douglas Reeves, a researcher who spoke to the Senate’s education committee in June on how to improve No Child Left Behind legislation, has studied so-called 90/90/90 schools, where 90percent of the students are minorities, poor and yet proficient on standards-based exams.

“Some people use that evidence to say, ‘Poverty doesn’t matter, buck it up, kid.’ That would never be my inference,” Reeves said. “My inference instead is that (poverty) need not be determinative.”

When Reeves and other researchers looked at the 90/90/90 schools, patterns emerged.

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“You continue to see some of the same things again and again,” he said.

Impact of social issues

Hayward Schickele said though 90/90/90 schools do exist, every school has unique needs. The 90/90/90 formula may not work everywhere, and not all schools can afford to implement the measures used in 90/90/90 schools, she added.

She said she and colleagues work hard to help all children learn, but that luring good teachers to urban districts and keeping them there is a challenge.

A study released last month by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning showed that statewide, schools with the highest percentage of minority students still had the least-experienced and qualified teachers.

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ABOUT THIS SERIES

Editor’s note: Today [the San Bernardino County Sun begins] a three-part series about No Child Left Behind education-related legislation up for review by Congress this year.

TODAY We examine the achievement gap between affluent and poor children, and between whites and minorities.

FRIDAY We spotlight what local schools are doing to meet the requirements of the legislation. A major challenge has been helping children with limited English skills.

SATURDAY Educators share their hopes for the future of No Child Left Behind, and whether it needs to be fine-tuned or abandoned altogether.

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