Tag Archives: minority children

Unintended Consequences

Two education stories that came out over the weekend revealed unintended consequences to education of US law and a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The first story—”A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government’s Good Intentions” (NYTimes, July 18)—tells of the removal of a Burlington, Vermont school principal Joyce Irvine from her leadership position at a school with 97 percent low income children, and 50% foreign-born children, a large number of whom are refugees who have had traumatic experiences of one kind or another.

Although all comers are impressed by the accomplishments of the children from year to year, the testing system under the No Child Left Behind Act—which has meant that some new-comers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, for example, have had to take an English language state math test after a month or less in the United States, for example—is not adapted to this type of situation.

As a result of standardized tests offered under these conditions, the school scored poorly, and the school district was faced with a choice of fulfilling heart-breaking requirements—closing the school; removing half the staff and the principal; or removing only the principal and transforming the school—to receive as much as $3 million in federal stimulus funds, or forgoing the stimulus funds. The decision was that removing the principal was the least damaging choice.

The principal is so highly regarded that she has been given another job by the school district that removed her and both the Burlington school superintendent and US Senator Bernie Sanders have spoken very highly of her.

The second story—”Standardized English Tests Are Halted in Iran” (NYTimes, July 17)—explains that the UN Security Council resolution of sanctions against Iran as well as US sanctions make it impossible for Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to accept payment of registration fees from Iran.

As a result, registration for the TOEFL testing program has been suspended, making things more difficult for people whom the sanctions were not intended to affect in this way. The situation may, however, be short-lived because a State Department spokesman has reported that explorations of alternative means to allow the program to resume are under consideration.

Identifying Gifted Children

Having mulled over some of the issues about standards, we’re now going to look at a group of students that characteristically add spice to the standards discussion: students with special needs, and our survey this month will be on this topic. We’ll start with gifted children.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the New York Times published a “Room for Debate” topic titled “The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child.” Participants include university-level education academicians/researchers, a journalist, and a tutoring program founder and CEO. They specific prompt for the comments is the information that New York City school officials are looking for a gifted and talented test that can identify children as young as 3 in an attempt to respond to complaints that minorities are under-represented and parents are “gaming” the system.

• Professor Susan K. Johnsen, Educational Psychology, Baylor University, points out that two types of children should be identified: those who already demonstrate advanced development and those who may—through intervention—become advanced. She acknowledges that gifts may develop and be discernible over time, thus calling into question a one-point testing program for identification. In addition, students are not well-represented across all races, ethnicities, and income levels at the current time.

• Clara Hemphill, senior editor at Center for NYC Affairs at the New School objects to the labeling and segregation of gifted children when their is a good neighborhood school that might serve them well. She points out the being with and understanding the talents of others not (yet) so labeled is an important part of the gifted child’s education. She claims that the fundamentals of kindergarten are pretty similar for all children, regardless of giftedness, and that differentiated instruction is easy to achieve at this level. She adds that testing children prior to kindergarten is “ridiculous.”

• Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center of the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) at University of Connecticut acknowledges that early childhood testing is unreliable and that parents have “gamed” the system. He suggests the use of a program by Dr. C. June Maker that identifies giftedness by watching children’s responses to specially designed activities that are performed in small groups (rather than individual, paper and pencil tests).

• Tonya R. Moon, associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia (also with NRC/GT ties) suggests multiple measures and multiple opportunities for identification. She says that nonverbal tests in particular, on which the most academically-gifted minority children are apt to score poorly, should not be used as a sole measure.

• Bige Doruk, founder and CEO of Bright Kids NYC (a tutoring service), states that no single test can guarantee better identification of gifted students than the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), which is currently used in NYC. She says that the fact that children identified by this test are thought by their teachers to be properly assigned to gifted programs indicates their reliability. She does not address the possibility that there are other children, who the test fails to identify, who may also belong. She does, however, point out that the younger the age of the child tested, the more influence home factors, such as home environment and parents’ educational attainment come into play, which would tend—she suggests—to skew results away from minorities. She also suggests that the top students from each district—regardless of exact score—should be placed in gifted and talented programs, including students to the point at which the program is full, and that NYC attend to a better calculation of matching supply to demand and transportation to facilitate the practical aspects of these programs.

For background on gifted children, please see our article “The Gifted Student.”

We also recommend you take a look at the comments readers have posted in response to the New York Times article.

Closing the Achievement Gap

There has been much discussion over the past forty years about the gap that separates underprivileged children and students of color from other students. This gap was narrowed quite a bit during the 1980′s particularly between whites and blacks it has remained fairly constant since. Below the national average performance of minority students continues to be one of the most pressing problems facing America’s educational system.

On average today’s black or Hispanic high school student reaches a level on par with white students in the lowest 25 percentile. They are also much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school and their chances of graduation high school, continuing on to college or earn a median income are much reduced.

There are many factors believed to influence this, the students racial and economic background, the level of education which their parents achieved, The access to schooling that they had in their preschool days, the funding of the school which they attend, the quality of teachers and involvement in school activities.

A recent study has shown that only 11 percent of students families in the bottom fifth of the economy have gone on to earn college degrees while 53 percent of children from the top fifth have graduated college. Children of Middle income black families have a 50 percent chance to fall into the lower fifth while only 16 percent of whites fell into that category. Black children from the lower fifth of the country have a 19 percent chance to reach the top fifth with 62 percent joining the middle class or higher.