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Minority Gap Narrows

Minority test scores continue to lag behind those of white students.

Loudoun County Public Schools’ minority population and performance have climbed, but test scores, particularly among Hispanic and black students, still lag behind those of white students, officials say.

"Despite our gains in closing the achievement gap between the [test] scores of white children and African-American and Hispanic children, … we really are not making enough of a gain to eliminate the gap," Warren Geurin, a member of the School Board and the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, said Sunday. "The committee is frustrated with overall scores."

OF LOUDOUN’S 44,250 students, 60.7 percent or 30,851 are white, 10.7 percent or 4,735 are Hispanic, and 8.3 percent or 3,671 are African-American. The rest of the students comprise 9.8 percent or 4,325 Asian, 0.3 percent or 128 Native American and 1.2 percent or 540 are nonspecified. The "white" category also represent Middle Eastern students. High percentages of minorities live in eastern Loudoun County. For example, 70 percent of the Guilford Elementary School students were minorities last year.

In late September, Herb Bryan and Charles Robinson, co-chairmen of the minority committee, presented the School Board with a summary of the progress made during the 2003-2004 school year. Bryan said the two most pressing issues in minority achievement were the need to expand diversity and cultural competency training to all levels of the school staff and to improve reading programs in all grades.

Bryan said minority achievement has improved, and the goal of having 80 percent with passing grades by 2006 is achievable. "The bad news is there’s still an achievement gap," he said.

DATA SHOWS that Standards of Learning (SOL) elementary history tests in 1999 had 65 percent of the Asian students passing, 44 percent of the black students passing, 44 percent of the Hispanic students passing and 70 percent of the white students passing. In 2003, 85 percent of the Asians passed, 68 percent of the blacks, 69 percent of the Hispanics and 89 percent of the whites.

"We’d like to see 89 percent for all kids," Geurin said. "The scores show over a six-year-period that teachers are improving their teaching and their students are improving their learning, but … there are still those gaps."

In a 1999 SOL reading test comparison, 73 percent of the Asian students passed, 55 percent of the black students, 57 percent of the Hispanic students, and 83 percent of the white students. In 2003, those numbers rose with 87 percent of the Asians passing, 70 percent of the blacks, 79 percent of the Hispanic, and 91 percent of the whites.

Geurin said the reading test scores demonstrate that teachers have made inroads in reading through a variety of programs including Steps to Literacy, Reading Recovery and Title I. The Title I program provides funding to schools based on the number of low-income families in the district. Its purpose is to improve achievement among disadvantaged students.

"The rising tide is lifting all the boats, but as the tide rises, the white boats are still higher on the scale," he said. "That’s the frustration of the committee."

SHARON ACKERMAN, assistant superintendent of instruction, has provided cultural competency training to 75 percent of the schools. Geurin said part of the training’s goal is to eliminate stereotyping. "We are trying to get the point across to white teachers that they have different cultural experiences than a lot of our minority students," he said. "We’re sensitizing teachers who don’t come from these diverse cultures about the culture of the African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American and other minority students."

He said there is a strong feeling among some African-Americans that society continues to stereotype and discriminate against them. "Teachers represent society. … If the teachers do not treat African-American children stereotypically, it helps compensate for the people who still do."

Bryan also said the school district has introduced "equity teams" to monitor teachers and other staff to make sure no student is treated differently because he or she is a minority.

Transition teams also have been set up to concentrate on students stepping up from elementary to middle school and middle to high school. Geurin said the teams’ objective is to make sure no child "falls through the cracks" during the transition.

Robinson said all of the public schools have a team in place. "They might not call it a transition team," he added. "Certainly they are addressing those students who are moving up. … Those students who are struggling are getting some help."

Bryan said there are minority students who also are on the college track.

ANOTHER MOVE to close the achievement gap has been to structure the use of resource periods so that all students at risk of failing receive additional assistance. In addition, at least two teachers have been assigned to a student to learn his or her name and family situation.

Geurin said closing the gap is important because, for one, the School Board has set it as a goal. "Number two, it is the right thing to do," he said. "We don’t want them, somewhere along the line, to get frustrated and drop out. … The goal is to educate every child."

He said Hispanic students are likely to have a mother and father who did not attend college, unlike the white students. "It’s tough when the mother and father don’t speak English and didn’t have the same advantages you and I had in schools. It’s real tough."