|Page updated: 21 September, 2005|
Enhancing Academic Achievement by Recognizing Cultural Strength
Presenters at the Cambio de Colores conference on Friday at the MU Reynolds Alumni Center, said the effort to close the educational achievement gap between white students and Latino students -- especially those who are learning English as a second language -- still has a long way to go.
Educators are especially concerned about the gap in math, reading and writing. Discussion about the achievement gap between black and white students has been growing in Columbia, but a gap also exists between Latino and white students.
“This is not something that just fell out of the sky,” said Juanita Simmons, assistant professor of education at MU.
Simmons said that to close the gap, parents, educators and administrators must understand what it is. Opportunity, expectation and performance gaps are what she said make up the larger achievement disparities.
Gaps in opportunity refer to children of poverty, under qualified teachers, and historical factors. Expectation gaps include inferior curricula and lack of a culturally responsive perspective. Ineffective accountability and lack of strategic planning are some of the performance gap issues.
Simmons said it’s important for educators and administrators to reach out to Latino parents in an effective way, so they understand that the schools want them involved. This is part of the expectation gap.
“They want to be involved, but there’s a cultural mismatch,” Simmons said.
She also said that it’s crucial for teachers and parents not to automatically filter Latino students, especially those for whom English is a second language, into the least challenging courses, which also speaks to the expectation gap.
“We can’t dumb classes down for minority students in lower track courses; they need to be challenged,” she said.
She also said educational studies have shown that minority students perform better when in higher level courses that push them to grow academically.
The other major problem facing Latino students in the area of opportunity is the quality of their learning environment. Simmons said there are more uncertified teachers, those teaching outside their field, in schools with high minority and high poverty students.
Goals including teacher sensitivity, parent involvement, and clear teacher expectations will create an environment where the gap can close, Simmons said, and progress is already being made.
“There are several states where they are out-writing other students,” she said.
Jay Scribner, an associate professor of education at MU, then addressed how well schools serve students with diverse learning needs. He said an effort must be made to have certified teachers in both urban and rural areas instructing Latino children.
Delores Beck, coordinator of federal programs for the Missouri department of elementary and secondary education, discussed how the gap can be closed for students who are learning English as their second language and stressed that the best way for these children to succeed is through early education.
If students come into the school system with English as their second language during or after kindergarten, it takes about five to seven years for them to become proficient.
“If kids have had a quality pre-k experience, all the other differences are leveled out by kindergarten,” she said.
Beck said Missouri wants to make their pre-school program universal, meaning it would be open to all students. Currently, the program is available in select districts at Title I schools. Recently though, a call from a budget analyzer in Jefferson City gave her much hope for the program to expand.
“Here we get a call asking how much money we would need for our pre-school program to be in every district. I was almost jumping up and down,” she said.
Beyond early education, Beck also said a federal program called Reading First is working in districts with low performance to get all students learning English as a second language to be proficient in reading by third grade. The new funding formula, which the general assembly is working to change, may include a weighted amount for these students. At the high school level, Beck mentioned a task force that stresses rigor for Latino children. She said these programs will continue to succeed if students, parents and educators can work together to create the best possible experience for students learning English and Latino students in general.
“Any help you can give us, we’ll need it for the kids we’re most concerned about at this conference,” she said.
Day 2, Thursday March 31st, 2005, 8:00 AM Plenary Session
By Tara Leitner
Mid-Missouri bilingual newspaper.
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