Worst in Nation "In Connecticut fourth and eighth grade, low-income students are on average roughly three grade levels behind non-low-income students in reading and math," said Yvette Melendez, Commissionon Educational Achievement. “The gap in Connecticuts low-income andnon-low-income students is 34 points, the largest of the 50 states …,"explained Dudley Williams, Commission on Educational Achievement.(http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/education/hartford-achievement-gap) Statements like that don’t make me happy, but they do make me think.Are they true? And, if so, what can we do about it? Is it specific to certaindemographics or prevalent throughout our state? Should a shoreline upper-scale community like Branford be concerned? I have completed several studies that refer to the achievement gap inBranford. (For more complete reports about the 2 studies of grade level andcohort groups go here and here or go to http://www.slideshare.net/ andsearch users for tsalvin13). The table below shows Branford’s longest running cohort (non-matched) achievement gap for the 4th Generation Connecticut Mastery Test(Free/Reduced lunch program vs. Non Free/Reduced lunch program scalescore differences for 2006-2011) for Math and Reading.Achievement Gap (difference scores: non-low-income students minus low-income students for Math and Reading CMT Scale Scores). Cohort (same kids over time, but transfers may make the groups differ slightly). Achievement Gap in BranfordYear 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011Grade 3 4 5 6 7 8MathGap 23 36.1 35.3 31.6 28.3 30.7ReadGap 23.8 37.2 39 47.4 38.2 35.1 Evidently we should be concerned. The gap is real and prevalent.Our low socioeconomic kids sometimes have gaps as large as or larger thanConnecticut’s average. The question becomes: What can we do about it?
A sociologist, Karl Alexander, from Johns Hopkins University studied650 students in the Baltimore Public Schools from 1st through 5th grade bytracking their scores in reading (Karl L. Alexander; Doris R. Entwisle, 2003,“The Beginning School Study, 1982-2002"). The instrument, the CaliforniaAchievement Test, was administered in June of each year. The first tableshows results of end of year (June) CAT for each grade level. End of School Year Achievement Test Scores by Socioeconomic Level (June-Baltimore) 3rd 5thSocEcoClass 1st Grade 2nd Grade 4th Grade Grade Grade Low 329 375 397 433 461 Middle 348 388 425 467 497 High 361 418 460 506 534 Look at the scores of the first grade students in June of the year andyou will see that the low socioeconomic group scored lower than the middleand high socioeconomic groups. For various reasons this could be expected.The gap grows through the five grades. The achievement gap being due topoor teachers and poor schools would be a likely conclusion. The unique and very telling occurrence that allows a secondaryanalysis was the test was given twice a year—at the beginning and end ofthe school year. Gains during the school year were measured and shown inthe chart below. Gains During the School Year by Socioeconomic Level (September to June-Baltimore) st 2nd 3rdSocEcoClass 1 Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade Grade Grade Low 55 46 30 33 25 Middle 69 43 34 41 27 High 60 39 34 28 23 This table shows the gains of each socioeconomic group September toJune school year first through fifth grades. These numbers indicate theachievement gains made by each group during the school year.
If you take a cumulative total of the gains during the school year bysocioeconomic groups, you will see that the Low Group gained 189 pointsduring their time in school besting the High Group gain of 184 points.Looking at the first chart for end of year scores could easily result in thesuggestion that “schools are failing our low socioeconomic kids.” Whilelooking at the second table shows us that schools are providing better gainsfor low socioeconomic kids than high socioeconomic kids. Why theparadox? Due to the advent of a pretest and posttest scenario, achievement canbe calculated due to the summer break. These difference scores from theend of previous grade (June) to the beginning of next grade (September) areshown below. The results show what effect the summer break had on thestudents’ achievement.Effect of the Summer Break on Student Achievement by Socioeconomic Level (June to September-Baltimore) SocEcoClas 1st-2nd 2nd -3rd 3rd-4th 4th-5th Total s Low -3.67 -1.70 2.74 2.89 .26 Middle -3.11 4.18 3.68 2.34 7.09 High 15.38 9.22 14.51 13.38 52.49 This table is crucial for the explanation of the conundrum of how aschool system can be successful with groups of kids while simultaneouslyfailing the same groups of kids. By providing learning opportunities duringthe school year to kids, schools are successful, by not providing learningopportunities during the rest of the year—particularly the summer break,schools are failing. And the failure is registering vividly in the reportedachievement gap leveled by socioeconomics, ethnicity, English as a secondlanguage, and other categories. The solution is to provide reading and math instruction for severalweeks during the summer. Not “remedial” light dutyphonics/comprehension and basic math facts practice morphed from severallower grades but contiguous rigorous instruction. “These summer schoolprograms typically differ significantly from the regular school program interms of curriculum, goals, and rigor.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_learning_loss)
Students exit school around the second week of June. Let themvacation until a week after the Fourth of July celebrations. Beginning on orabout the tenth of July, open schools to all until the second week of August.To provide incentive and means for the gap kids (low-income), grant moneyshould be sought. Regular income kids would be required to pay. Volunteerteachers working with college students who intend to become teachers couldbe an additional resource that should be explored. (This is not out of thequestion. A few years ago I wanted to volunteer to help begin a summerreading and math program primarily aimed at kids who needed the extrainstruction. I talked to a few colleagues and 2 administrators. Besidesmyself, I found 2 teachers who were interested, and both administratorsthought it a real possibility.) If the math and reading instructional content was “from the regularprogram…curriculum, goals…” and directed toward identified achievementgap students (the needy ones), but offered to all, the effect might be dramaticwhile cost effective. Using data-driven common sense and neededincentives, our schools could become summer community learning centersfor anyone interested, with special emphasis on low-economic students andequal opportunity education for others. The achievement gap might becomea thing of the past, and summer break would still be a satisfying 5-weekholiday.