Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
When the Virginia Department of Education released its long-term plans to improve student achievement last month, mouths
throughout the state were left agape in disbelief. Changes to the state’s long time student assessment tool, the Standards of Learning (SOL) appear to significantly lessen the performance expectations of black and Latino students. The action had student advocacy groups crying foul.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, the new evaluation system called Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) are based on actual student performance and achievement data from the 2010-2011 school year.
The goal is to reduce the proficiency gaps that exist between student subgroups. But in the process, it offers some harsh realities: Under the new rules, only 45 percent of black students are expected to pass state math exams, compared to 52 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of white students and 82 percent for Asian students. By the 2016-2017 school year, the goals in math will increase to 57 percent for blacks, 65 percent for Hispanics, 78 percent for whites and 89 percent for Asians.
In the past, schools were reluctant to provide disaggregated scores, or data extrapolated by race and ethnicity, fearing the very backlash they are now receiving. For years, low minority scores have been masked behind the higher scores of white and Asian students. The new AMOs are based on actual subgroup pass rates. This will rip away any pretense that our kids are meeting academic standards at a rate that we find acceptable.
Tanzi West Barbour, the director of communications for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), accuses Virginia of insinuating that black students are not smart enough to pass the statewide proficiency exam.
“The state of Virginia does not believe that black students can achieve at a high rate,” West Barbour said in a statement. “By this action the elected and nonelected officials who devised these new standards have created a new form of Jim Crow — our students may longer be separated by brick and mortar, but they certainly are in expectations.”
But I contend that if our kids can’t pass the test, it does not speak to their innate intellectual abilities but perhaps to their lack of effort. My question for West-Barbour and others is: Outside of hurling accusations of racism, when are we going to address this issue within the black community and lay these antiquated arguments to rest at long last? I see this as a wake-up call to our parents and our community.
In order for black students to improve their academic standing, we need a fundamental shift, at home, in the way they view learning. Most of our kids do not believe that they need to compete in the classroom in the same manner in which they compete on the football field, the basketball court or the track. If they did, it is doubtful that we would be having this conversation.
I share BAEO’s concerns. I am desperately afraid for the futures of black students and the black community as a whole if our kids continue to fail to compete on a level playing field. However, the weight for finding answers cannot be borne solely by the school system or the state. It’s time for black parents and leaders to take a long look in the mirror if we seek to unveil the rudimentary causes of our children’s failures.
But the expectations appear to be based on past academic performance and not race. The data continues to tell the same sad story, and the achievement gap persists. Asian and white students have higher test scores, while black and Hispanics still lag significantly behind.
What is notable here is that one might also make the argument that Virginia’s expectations for its white students are less than those of Asian kids. The new reading benchmarks call for 92 percent of Asians, 90 percent of white students, 80 percent of Hispanics and 76 percent of black students to pass.Can we therefore assert that Virginia is biased against whites as well?
Although Virginia has had a questionable reputation when it comes to race relations in the past, the numbers don’t lie. As an educator, I have been constantly frustrated by the ever more nimble, acrobatic excuses served up by those who apparently want to bury this issue and pretend that it does not exist.
For decades, BAEO has been at the forefront of advocating for parent options in public schooling. Over the years they have waged a vigilant fight for vouchers, charter schools, free tutoring and the like. Yet, despite these admirable efforts, the achievement gap still exists.
Our kids are failing, and the system has informed us of this time and again. Yet in typical fashion, we counter with knee-jerk responses that are defensive rather than collaborative.
Virginia claims that AMOs are designed to identify schools that need intervention. This is hardly a revelation. Schools have been designated this way for a long time. A review of the data will occur in six years, and schools that continue to struggle will be required to implement a state-approved plan to improve.
At some point, and I hope sooner rather than later, black parents and community leaders will finally accept that the changes in how our students intrinsically view education must come from us, not the school system. I too am outraged by the news that the expectations for our kids are so low, but my disappointment is not directed at the state of Virginia.
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