Testing Abuse

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Student Life Gaps

Student Life Gaps

Dan Walters Opinion piece of 4/17/16 describes how the perennial attempt in California (and across the country) to reduce the ‘achievement’ gap between poor/English-language learners and more advantaged students has not only been a disappointment, but in fact the gap has widened.  What is this ‘achievement gap’ and what does it mean to students, parents, educators and the community?
My name is Rog Lucido. For over 38 years I have taught students and teachers, physics ( and other sciences) as well as mathematics in private, public and charter schools here in Fresno and elsewhere. Our five children have attended both public and private schools over their k-12 education years. Since 1990 I have researched, written three books on the effects of tests and scores on students and teachers. [Test, Grade, and Score- Never More (1993), Educational Genocide- A Plague on our Children (2010), Returning Sanity to the Classroom (2015)]
As teacher, parent, and researcher/author I am quite familiar with the common understanding of academic ‘achievement’ that is referred to in this ‘achievement gap’. In short it means ‘how well do students score on a set of standardized tests’. That is defined as their ‘achievement’. The ‘gap’ is a comparison of a set of scores (numbers) from one administration of these tests to a specific group of students in comparison to another group in a similar time window. The test maker arbitrarily sets ‘cut scores’ that label students’ test results into specific categories (In California for over ten years described student performance achievement levels on the California Standards English and Math Tests as ‘far below,’ ‘below basic,’ ‘basic,’ ‘proficient,’ and ‘advanced.’ ) Similar designations will occur on the new common core assessments.
So, the ‘achievement gap’ means the numerical score differences on standardized English and math tests between defined groups of students based on their socio-economic and language acquisition levels. Generally the groups that are compared are classified as white, Asian, Latino, and black. Beginning in 1965, then President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) saying that the purpose of the law is to “bridge the gap between hopelessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children.” Since then the federal government has provided extra funds beyond ordinary state monies to help these disadvantaged children to hopefully narrow the ‘achievement gap’. The Congress has mandated standardized testing to check to see if this gap is closing. Currently in California (as is true elsewhere), the gap is widening. In my last two books I focused on the invalidity, injustice and inappropriateness of using this high-stakes standardized testing as a means of student assessment. In this article I turn my attention to the impact of a student’s life outside-of-school on academic success in-school. I call it the life gap.
From the 1960’s onward numerous studies have shown that 80 to 90 percent of student academic achievement is due to factors outside-of-school. To put it another way, it has been clearly demonstrated that only 10 to 20 percent of a student’s academic achievement is determined by what actually goes on in school. The rest is determined by family and societal issues. Much has been made of the correlation between family income and student achievement, i.e., as family income rises, so does student academic achievement.
While this is true in the generalized sense it is not necessarily true in the specific sense. Many teachers have experienced students from ‘poor’ families who have excelled both in the classroom and on these standardized tests. We have also experienced students from ‘wealthy’ families who have done very poorly on both.  If 80 to 90 percent of a student’s school success comes from aspects of their life outside of school, it would behoove state and federal governments to identify those out-of-school elements, then spend time and resources on their remediation.
Schools cannot pretend that trying to get the most out of students’ 10 to 20 percent  of school contributions will have a significant impact on their achievement. These in-school academic efforts cannot override the 80 to 90 percent of those out-of-school effects that students have been molded by and continue to impact them each and every day. How are schools to effectively educate students who must deal with:

-Chronic hunger
-Daily fear of life and limb
-Physical/mental health issues
-Lack of parental educational support
-Lack of appropriate reading material in the home
-Insufficient housing
-Severely limited life experiences
-Dysfunctional family life
-Weak academic motivation

To begin to address these out-of –school issues, each and every student needs a personal ‘case worker’( not akin to the current academic/social counselor)  who can identify the limitations with which each student enters school and develop a ‘life-enhancement’ plan with state and federal resources and interventions to manage student progress within each of the afore mentioned out-of-school concerns.

Industrial manufacturers are quite aware of the need for quality raw materials to produce the best possible products. While schools are not factories they do have a mandate to take in students in whatever condition they arrive and provide a rich and wholesome educational experience. The better able students are to access the school experience the more enriched their lives will become. The actions and resources of the case worker with each student can reduce the negative impact of the out-of-school issues and provide a healthier life for them.

American students need it. When the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) compares children’s well being in the top twenty four richest countries the United States ranks near the bottom in all three major categories: Material well being, Education well being and Health well being. There surely are state and federal laws and programs directed at alleviating hunger, providing housing, and accessing health services. These attempts are by enlarge for the general population. They are not personally coordinated programs focused on an individual student’s daily attempts to overcome his or her personal out-of –school deprivations and obstacles.

This is not a figment of this teacher/parent/researcher/author’s imagination. It is real and is happening to the students in the school nearest you. Our state and federal governments need to wake up and allocate our education dollars where it will have the most impact: on the out-of-school limitations. Why spend our education dollars on what does not get to the heart of the matter? Teachers’ efforts and school/district normal programs will become much more efficacious with students who are healthier and happier in their personal lives.