Re: Equity in Educational Assessment

Date: Thu Mar 02 2000 - 17:17:50 EST

You wrote:
"More importantly, hidden in all these standards is the reality that
many children are being left behind in American schools and those children
are NOT white, upper/middle class on average. Is the real issue that the
standard is the problem or is it that we have to stop being willing to
leave kids behind, to stop accepting that some kids "just can't read"
"aren't as good in math" etc. I suppose in this light, if the standards
reflect on the school and not the individual child, might they be somewhat
useful to those of us interested in equity?"

I think your comment is a great way to think about standards in assessment.
At their best, they promote rigorous curriculum and high expectations for
all students. At their worst, they act as yet another filter, sifting
certain groups of kids out of the educational pipeline. For the latter I'm
thinking particularly of high stakes testing such as the MCAS that we have
here in Massachusetts. The number of students of color who, based on the
current test results, will not be allowed to graduate from high school is
absolutely disheartening. Yet these results could be used to the benefit
of students. The assessments show that many of our schools, particularly
those in communities with few resources, are not doing all they can to
teach every student. For example, the highest scoring community in
Massachusetts was the suburb Harvard (which is pretty affluent and mostly
White). In grade 4 on the mathematics MCAS, 33 percent of Harvard district
students scored at the advanced (highest level). The state average was 12
percent - and the average for Boston Public Schools was 4 percent. That's
a 29 point difference between Boston and Harvard!

In her book _Multiplying Inequalities_ Jeannie Oakes spends a lot of time
comparing how students in different ability tracks receive different kinds
of instruction. Students in high-ability tracks (which is largely White,
Asian, and middle- and high-income students) are pushed to develop higher
level thinking and problem solving skills, spend more time with hands-on
activities, spend less time on "math facts," and have fewer quizzes and
tests. Low-ability tracks, on the other hand, have more drill and
practice, more worksheets, and more tests. These are students from the
same school using the same curriculum. While she is talking mostly about
students within the same school or district, I think her analysis also
works for urban versus suburban schools, poor verus non-poor schools.
Students in economically disadvantaged schools tend to miss out on the same
kind of rigorous curriculum that students in more affluent schools receive.
That is not to say this is true for every school in every city, nor is it
to say that the teachers in those schools are doing a poor job. The point
is more to recognize that students in those two settings receive VERY
different kinds of educations and have very different school experiences.
This difference is highlighted by assessments such as the MCAS which tests
students on higher level thinking and problem solving (the kind of
curriculum that higher tracked students receive). So that test, and others
similar to it in other states, send off screaming red bells that we need to
work harder to provide a rigorous education to all students. In the
meantime though, until real changes are implemented they will simply be
filtering many non-White students out of the educational pipeline. In
Boston, some of those changes are beginning to happen. But they will
probably not happen soon enough to stop massive numbers of urban students
from not graduating.

"Christina Perez" <>

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