Lingering Academic Gap Riles NAACP

Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, November 6, 2007

In one of the wealthiest counties in the country, minority advocates are urging the Loudoun County School Board to redouble efforts and resources to boost achievement of black and Hispanic students to the level of their white classmates.

Members of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, who have monitored minority student performance for more than a decade, said they have seen only “small, inconsistent improvement” in narrowing racial and ethnic disparities.

“Given that some schools throughout the nation have eliminated the achievement gap, [we] must demand more effective and vigorous action,” Reginald A. Early, the chapter’s president, wrote the board recently.

State tests show large gaps in reading scores, particularly for elementary- and middle-school students. Four years ago, the passing rate for non-Hispanic white third-graders in Loudoun was 24 percentage points ahead of the rate for both black and Hispanic students. In the past school year, black students lagged by 21 points; for Hispanic students, the disparity was 29 points.

Stubborn disparities challenge educators everywhere, including those in the affluent Washington suburbs, where overall high performance can overshadow lower achievement among some groups. The typical explanations that experts cite—including language barriers, poverty or uninvolved parents—often do not fully explain those gaps.

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The NAACP recommended specific strategies for helping minority students across the school system. Its suggestions include using test scores to rate teachers, dedicating more funds to outreach programs for minority parents and recruiting a more racially diverse workforce of educators. Although more than a third of Loudoun students are nonwhite, only 7 percent of teachers are minorities.

The NAACP also recommended better training for teachers in cultural competence and classroom management, with the goal of alleviating inequities in school discipline. Black and Hispanic students represented about one-fifth of the student body in 2005-06, but they made up about two-fifths of those suspended that school year.

In September, officials responded to the NAACP in a board presentation that portrayed {snip}

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