Sunday, April 05, 2009

Black Texas principal singles out black students to improve test scores

This from the Dallas Morning News:
...Grand Prairie High School principal Joseph Showell took a calculated risk. He called 60 black students into a meeting and challenged them to do better on their TAKS tests.

All of them were on the bubble. They had either narrowly failed or barely passed the exam last year.

Showell theorized that he could motivate the students to do better this year by explaining that their performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is important to the school's overall academic rating and reputation.

Such is the high-pressure world of TAKS testing, which plays out in March and April. Bad scores in a single subject by just one student subgroup – blacks, Hispanics, whites and the economically disadvantaged – can torpedo a school's academic ranking or sink a principal's career.

Some students appreciated his candor. Others were offended and felt singled out for criticism because they are black.

"I said [to the principal], 'How can you call us stupid and not expect us to get mad," said Ashanti Rose, one of the black students called into the meeting last month.

At Grand Prairie High School, the black student subgroup had dragged the school's rating down in 2006 and 2007. Showell, who is black, decided in 2008 that it was time for a straight talk with the black students. He says he never called them stupid or demeaned them.

"It's not about being mean with the kids. That's not what I do," he said. "But you want to have the kids understand exactly where they are academically, because for a lot of them, this is the first time this information has been explained to them this way."

No one really knows, but the talks may have worked. In 2008, black student scores improved and the school moved from academically unacceptable to acceptable.

To some, a principal talking to students about racial subgroups in the TAKS system seemed unorthodox. But Showell believes his detailed explanation of the testing system could mean the difference between passing and failing.

"These are students that are not achieving, but they have the ability," Showell said. "These are not students that necessarily need remediation ... but just more motivation." ...

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