Addressing SAT achievement gapThe Sun's article "Tests...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 04, 1999

Addressing SAT achievement gap

The Sun's article "Tests show advances in reading" (Aug. 19) suggests that Baltimore County's school system has presented test scores that prove it has begun to close the academic achievements gap among cultural groups.

But caution is in order before school districts around the state beat a path to Baltimore County's door to learn how to close the academic achievement gap.

Ten years ago, statistics indicated that African-American students started school on par with their white counterparts of the same socioeconomic level and were happier to be in school and less likely to be absent.

At the third grade level, an achievement gap became evident and the gap widened each year of the black child's schooling.

One does not have to be a research fellow to figure that these students came from sufficiently nurturing homes that they were able to ward off the negative effects of schooling for three years.

However, one of the responses to this gap was to try to get to these students early, with more preschool programs, and fix them so that they are ready for school.

I personally warned a group of Baltimore County administrators that this would not net them their anticipated gains.

And what has happened? The achievement gap now exists in the lower grades.

Thus, Baltimore County has published results of one program that is supposedly solving the problem that another program may have created.

Do not get excited by these test figures for young children. If you give me any child -- black or white, rich or poor -- I can teach that child in a few months enough to pass first- through third-grade reading and math tests.

There simply is not much to be tested at that level.

The real test of gap reduction is for Baltimore County to show us data by race on MSPAP and SAT scores, high school graduation, college, honor roll and honor society participation. Those are the things that matter.

History has taught us that black children being on equal footing in grades one through three does not prevent an increasing achievement gap in later years.

African-American children do not need special programs. There is nothing wrong with them. They need to be treated like human beings. Their homes, parents and culture need to be respected and included in their schooling.

More important, they need to be taught by people who value them and believe in their potential.

A few school systems have taken this achievement gap quite seriously and are quietly implementing approaches that will fix the problem. They are not in it for the publicity, political posturing of fanfare. But they are deeply in it.

When the normal data collection system reflects the success of their efforts, they will lead by example. Meanwhile, they send up no fake balloons.

Baltimore County is deserving of no credit, no praise -- not now, not yet.

Agnes Green, Maryland Line

The writer is a diversity consultant and a retired education administrator.

Breakfast bill worth paying

In May, Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a bill that established the Universal Breakfast Pilot Program. This program seeks to assure that hungry schoolchildren will get a good breakfast, without labeling themselves as "poor children."

When implemented, the program will provide breakfast in the classroom to all children, regardless of family income. Schools participating in the breakfast program must have at least 40 percent of their students eligible for the federally funded free and reduced price meals.

Nonpublic schools may participate in the program, if they are eligible to participate in the federal meals program.

The cost of implementing the program is approximately $2,000 to $35,000 per school per year, depending on the number of students eligible for free and reduced price meals.

The problem is that no money was included in the budget for fiscal year 2000 for implementation of the program. I will work to see that such funding for the next fiscal year is allocated during the General Assembly's 2000 session.

The traditional school breakfast program reaches only a fraction of children who are eligible. On average, only 30 percent of students eligible for free meals and 11 percent of those eligible for reduced price meals participate in Maryland's existing school Breakfast Program in Maryland.

By offering breakfast to all children, the program removes the stigma associated with being singled out as poor. Many children would rather go hungry than be seen as poor by their classmates.

There is no other way to explain the statistics showing a sharp increase in those eating breakfast when it is offered to all in the classroom. For two years, the Abell Foundation and Harvard Medical School have studied privately funded pilot programs in Maryland that are similar to the in-classroom Universal Breakfast Pilot Program.

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