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Same approach, same result

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 5/27/2009, 5 p.m.

State Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell released the 2008 Base Academic Performance Index (API) report, and once again the news is, in general, dismal for African American students.

The API report summarizes results from the spring 2008 testing period, and shows how many schools have hit or missed the state's target goal of 800 (see chart below). It also highlights the performance of statistically significant subgroups, and state-wide African Americans (659) scored below every subgroup except students with disabilities (552). By comparison, statewide Asian students scored 864 and non-Hispanic White youngsters scored 814.

According to O'Connell, while the achievement gap is obvious, this year is the first time there has been a narrowing of the difference in scores between Black and Latino pupils and their White and Asian counterparts.

"In the STAR (Standard Testing and Reporting) testing from last year, we saw an incremental reduction in the achievement gap. . . and it has taken Herculean effort to get that," O'Connell said.

There are shining examples of local schools (which tested at least 100 Blacks) where African American students are on par with their peers around the state. These include Signal Hill Elementary (840) and Newcomb Academy (863) both in Long Beach Unified; El Rincon Elementary (829) in Culver City; the Watts Learning Center in LAUSD (820), Wilder Preparatory (819) and Highland Elementary (817) in Inglewood; View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter (elementary) (813); McNair Elementary (808) Compton; and Cowan Elementary (800) in L.A.

These campuses are part of a state-wide contingent reflecting that 39.9% of elementary schools have hit or exceeded the state target.

The story is much different on the secondary level where only 30.1% of middle schools and 17.1% of high schools hit the mark. But, noted the state superintendent, the trajectory is upward with middle schools climbing 5.7% this year.

"The reason that gap exists is because it is not a priority of those responsible for educating our children that this gap disappear," explained noted educator George McKenna, who said this difference has been in place for years.

"Instead of trying to come up with a systemic approach to making changes, they point to individual acts of heroism as examples of why the system works," added McKenna, who himself was one of those individual acts. As principal at Washington Preparatory High School, he garnered wide-spread public acclaim for transforming a struggling inner city high school into one noted for turning out college-bound students.

In addition to the lack of will, McKenna, who has retired from active involvement in a school district and now operates an educational consulting firm, said there are a number of other factors that must be addressed to close the gap for African American students including the quality of teachers, and the difference African American culture infuses in an educational setting.

According to McKenna teachers need more training to improve their competency, and school district administrators must be willing to hold teachers accountable for their actions or inaction.
". . . the culture of the teacher doesn't change unless there's some consequence to non-performance," asserted McKenna.