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May 27, 2005 Extra Credit
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May 27, 2005

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NCLB Spurring Focus on Closing the Achievement Gap

The following are excerpts from an article in today's New York Times highlighting the importance of No Child Left Behind's focus on raising the academic achievement of minority students:

“Spurred by President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, educators across the nation are putting extraordinary effort into improving the achievement of minority students, who lag so sharply that by 12th grade, the average black or Hispanic student can read and do arithmetic only as well as the average eighth-grade white student.

“Here in Boston, low-achieving students, most of them blacks and Hispanics, are seeing tutors during lunch hours for help with math. In a Sacramento junior high, low-achieving students are barred from orchestra and chorus to free up time for remedial English and math. And in Minnesota, where American Indian students, on average, score lower than whites on standardized tests, educators rearranged schedules so that Chippewa teenagers who once sewed beads onto native costumes during school now work on grammar and algebra.

“‘People all over the country are suddenly scrambling around trying to find ways to close this gap,’ said Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard professor who for more than a decade has been researching school practices that could help improve minority achievement. He said he recently has received many requests for advice. ‘Superintendents are calling and saying, ‘Can you help us?’ … ‘More folks are talking about the achievement gap than we've ever seen before,’ said G. Gage Kingsbury, a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association, an Oregon group that carries out testing in 1,500 school districts.”

“In a National Public Radio interview last month, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was asked whether the gap was closing. ‘Absolutely,’ Secretary Spellings said, ‘every state in the country is showing progress.’ As a success story she cited Maryland, where the percentages of Hispanic and black fifth graders demonstrating math proficiency, for example, have risen somewhat faster than those of white students, whose scores have also risen. ‘We've done it by training our teachers and by identifying and helping those students who need special support,’ said Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent.

“Educators nationwide are pursuing similar strategies. In the Pascagoula School District in Mississippi, where 43 percent of black sixth graders scored at the proficient level in math last spring, compared with 83 percent of whites, Superintendent Hank M. Bounds recently ordered all 60 or so district administrators, even directors of technology and security, to tutor low-performing students.”

“In Boston, … where Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant announced last summer that closing the gap would be the public schools' top priority, the Boston Community Leadership Academy raised the number of its African-American students who demonstrated proficiency in math last year by 20 percentage points, to 35 percent. A key to the school's success, said Nicole Bahnam, its headmistress, has been careful analysis of student tests to diagnose where more work was needed. Volunteers from Boston Partners in Education, a private group, then tutor students in those areas during a 90-minute period that overlaps with lunch.”

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 08/27/2007