Achievement gap widens at Shoreline

11/21/2012

Shoreline Unified School District trustees trying to reverse a learning gap between Anglo and Latino students were confronted last week with a school report revealing a sliding performance among disadvantaged students.

The largest drop was among English learners, according to the annual report compiled by WestEd, a nonprofit research agency that uses standardized testing and other state and federal criteria to measure academic performance. It uses a point system, ranging from 200 to 1,000, to reflect grade levels in subjects such as math and reading.  

Overall performance levels in the district—excluding Bodega Bay Elementary, which was not part of the survey—remained the same as last year.

While performance among white students increased by 10 points from last year, it slid by 15 points among Latinos, underscoring a learning disparity that school administrators are working to resolve in a district in which about half of the students are Latino and have varying levels of English proficiency.  

The performance gap has inspired a movement in recent months among some district parents and administrators to push for a bilingual teaching program known as dual immersion. As a voluntary alternative, it is seen by educators as a way to remove learning obstacles for English learners by offering classes primarily in Spanish to preschool and elementary students before shifting to English in higher grade levels.

Still, “bringing in dual immersion will not automatically cause those jumps” in performance among English learners, said West Marin-Inverness School principal Matt Nagel, who has worked at other schools where the program brought only small improvements. Rather, he added, its success relies largely on how it is tailored for a specific school.

The decline also compounded concerns among district trustees about whether students are able to meet performance standards that increase every year under the No Child Left Behind Act, a requirement superintendent Stephen Rosenthal called “philosophically questionable.”

Iishwara Ryaru, a program associate at WestEd, suggested teachers work with tutors and other school aides to help students struggling to grasp certain subjects. “There are an infinite amount of things that we don’t have control over,” Mr. Ryaru said, citing socioeconomic status and other factors that are believed to affect student performance. “But what we do have control of is what we do with students everyday.”