By Ronah Baha, Oakland Tech sophomore/Special to Oakland North
Amidst crippling budget cuts and an impending strike, Oakland Technical High School continues to struggle with another longstanding issue: its cavernous achievement gap.
According to the state’s School Accountability Report Card for the 2008-2009 school year, Oakland Tech’s achievement gap is currently in the red zone, indicating a high level of urgency. Oakland Tech has one of the widest achievement gaps in the Oakland Unified School District. Standardized test scores are used to determine the achievement gap in a school, and the test scores at Oakland Tech reveal a gaping difference in its students academic success.
In the 2008-2009 school year, the Academic Performance Index for Oakland Tech, which indicates the academic abilities of students in a school based on standardized test scores, was 643 for the entire school. However, the API for caucasian students was 896. In 2009, caucasian students had the highest average California Standardized Testing scores, followed by Asians, Latinos/Hispanics, and black/African Americans.
The following is a list of National Achievement gap statistics:
• 7000 students drop out of school everyday in the U.S. We have the highest drop out rate of any developed nation.
• Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school in the U.S.
• High school graduates are likely to live 7 years longer than high school drop outs.
• Dropouts are 5-7 times more likely to go to jail than high school graduates.
• On average, 50 percent of African Americans and Latino students graduate, while 79 percent of Caucasian students and 76 percent of Asian students do.
There is no single cause behind the achievement gap. “If you’re looking for a cookie-cutter answer to the achievement gap, you won’t find one,” tenth-grade assistant principal Joshua Fuchs said. Issues with using standardized testing could be one factor. “There are some people out there who believe that standardized testing is not culturally sensitive,” Fuchs said. “It’s not a perfect system, but we need to know if our students are learning.”
People from Coro, a leadership program encouraging students to make a difference in their school communities, said in a recent presentation that the achievement gap could also be a result of Oakland Tech and its community not meeting the needs of certain individuals. This results in a lack of motivation by those students. While Oakland Tech offers a varied academy program and many other academic opportunities, students may be unable to relate to the curriculum.
Other factors contributing to the achievement gap are beyond the control of the Oakland Tech community, such as the level of education of a student’s parents, or the kind of environment and resources students have access to at home. According to the 2008-2009 Report Card, 59 percent of students qualify for reduced lunch at Oakland Tech, indicating that they are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
However, both faculty and students at Oakland Tech are working to bridge the achievement gap. One way in which teachers and administrators are working to do so is by making it easier for students to connect to the curriculum. “Two years ago, we began to encourage our teachers to develop curriculum that students can relate to,” Fuchs said. “It is much more challenging to teach a diverse community. People bring lots of different things tothe table.” Teachers and administrators believe that making coursework relevant to students’ lives will also make it more understandable.
Development of the academy system and other rigorous programs is another way in which the administration is working to close the gap. The goal behind this is to give students the opportunity to apply themselves and be more engaged in the learning process, as opposed to memorizing information.
Students are also taking a stand in closing the gap. In a presentation on campus on March 30, Coro addressed the topic of the achievement gap, its root causes, results, and steps that everyone in the Oakland Tech community can take to bridge the gap. “I wasn’t even aware of this issue before Coro,” a student in the presentation said. “Now I want to take action.” Members of Coro encouraged students, parents, and faculty to help by adhering to the three R “change avenues” they believe could be the key to closing the gap: increasing access to Resources, building strong Relationships among students and between students and staff, and Recognizing students for their achievements, like scores of proficient or above on the CSTs.
Editor’s Note: This marks the beginning of Oakland North’s new relationship with The Scribe Newspaper at Oakland Technical High School. This story is also featured in this month’s print edition of The Scribe.