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Update from The Orange County Closing the Latino Achievement Gap Committee

Michael Matsuda, Co-Chair of the Orange County Closing the Latino Achievement Gap Committee, is an administrator with the Anaheim Union High School District and president of the board of trustees for the North Orange County Community College District.

Thanks to the hard work begun by CSUF President Milton Gordon, the CSUF School of Education, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Senator Lou Correa, Assembly MemberJose Solorio, and led by Fullerton City Council Member Sharon Quirk last year on this vitally important topic, we are in the position to move forward in addressing the challenges of Long Term English Learners (LTEL) who comprise the bulk of the “Gap” students in Orange County and throughout the state. The work of the committee will culminate with the second Annual Latino Achievement Gap Summit that will be held on Friday, November 5th at Fullerton College.

In an effort to broaden the representation of stakeholders, we have expanded the committee to include members from community college, including my co-chair, Ned Doffoney, Chancellor of the North Orange County Community College District, policy experts from CSUF School of Education, CSULB, Chapman University, practitioners and board members from local school districts, parents, Hispanic business and representatives from Los Amigos of OC.

Over the last several months, the committee has focused on unintended consequences of federal and state accountability policies that rate schools on multiple choice/standardized tests heavily weighted toward Reading and Math.   While useful in surfacing the disparities in performance of subgroups, alignment of practice to these high stakes metrics have too often narrowed the curriculum to what’s tested and, to the detriment of Long term English Learners and others, have resulted in practices which do not prepare them for the next level of college and/or career readiness.  Most parents, including mainstream parents, have little knowledge about how these practices impact their children’s preparedness for success.

For example many parents believe that the API scores are sound measures of a school’s academic success. This may be partly true but most of the public do not know that the scores are primarily based on Reading and Math and therefore do not reflect how students are doing in other subjects such as science, social studies, health, the arts and electives including foreign languages.   The committee has in fact found that many schools in Orange County, especially those that are impacted with English Learners, have narrowed the curriculum to what’s tested.  There are junior high schools for example that have been touted for increasing API scores yet have cut science and history to one semester and offer no foreign language. Instead they place students in “test taking skills” courses or require double periods of reading and math resulting in no elective opportunities which might keep them interested in staying in school.     Immigrant parents often do not know to ask why this is happening and trust that the system is adequately preparing their children for college only to learn years later that they haven’t taken courses required by the CSU/UC system called the A-G sequence.

The committee is studying metrics in addition to API/AYP scores that should be examined in evaluating school performance.  These include other content assessments, graduation rates, A-G offerings, Advanced Placement completion rates, attendance, expulsions, and Healthy Kids Survey which provides data on drug use, violence and school climate.

Committee members are also examining other types of assessments which go beyond standardized tests including the work by Stanford’s Linda Darling Hammond, a finalist for Obama’s secretary of education  (too bad she wasn’t selected). Dr. Hammond has focused on Performance Assessments which are commonly used by countries who routinely outperform the US in Reading/Math/Science. Those countries generally do not use standardized tests for national assessments. Rather, they rely on performance assessments developed and administered at the local level designed to promote critical thinking and practical application of knowledge. These tests are not attached to “high stakes” such as graduation or ranking of schools. Dr. Hammond can be seen here describing benefits of performance assessments:

Finally, Californians Together, a statewide advocacy group for English Learners, has published an excellent new study written by Dr. Laurie Olsen called, “Reparable Harm” which can be downloaded here.

n summary, the report calls upon state policymakers and leaders to provide solutions and outlines basic principles and promising approaches for school districts to meet the needs of English Learners more effectively.

Key findings and recommendations from the report include:

59 percent of California’s high school English Learners are Long Term English Learners (defined as students in U.S. schools for six or more years who have not been able to achieve English proficiency), according to a survey of 40 school districts across California

In some districts, Long Term English Learners make up 75 percent of all English Learners

State policy should require the districts to collect data and monitor the progress of English learners to prevent the development of Long Term English learners.

Local programs supporting Long Term English Learners have been marginal and inconsistent in implementation .

State policy has resulted in narrowing of the curriculum focusing on Language Arts and Math which has unintentionally created a curriculum gap.

Policymakers must commit to providing materials, program, professional development and curriculum support to help English Learners succeed and ensure that students do not become Long Term English Learners.

The report also lists What Works to support Long Term English Learners.

I strongly encourage folks who are interested in learning about the Achievement Gap to examine this new publication. Those of us on the committee have worked very hard on these issues and look forward to seeing people from throughout Orange County attend the Closing the Latino Achievement Gap Summit on November 5th.