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Chipman starts discussion on race

Submitted by on 1, October 29, 2008 – 10:00 amNo Comment

A report to the school board last night on Chipman Middle School’s efforts to raise test scores in order to avoid a host of federally mandated dire consequences erupted into a fascinating discussion on race and the role it may play in the success or failure of students there and nationwide.

“Our black and brown students have a strong feeling that (their school is) not as good as Lincoln because it’s the white school,” Chipman Vice Principal Kirsten Zazo told the board. “I’m challenging all of us to start talking about race. What’s happening at Chipman with our kids is happening throughout the district.”

Chipman is in the third year of something called Program Improvement status with the state because it has failed to meet expected progress on its test scores. Specifically, the school has not met test score growth targets for African-American students in English Language Arts and math.

If the school fails to meet the targets at the end of five years, it faces a host of consequences, including the firing and replacement of most or all of its teachers, conversion to a charter school or state takeover.

Zazo said the test scores are what motivated the school’s administration to look at ways to talk to students, parents and teachers about race and the role it may play in school success or failure. She wants to examine what she says is internalized racism among students and teachers that may lead them to believe some non-white can’t succeed. And she’s looking for more effective teaching methods.

She’s also trying to tackle a perception problem: That the schools’ non-white students are all from out of town, and their performance is dragging down the district’s test scores. “It speaks to the ownership of this community that our black and brown kids are not ours. They don’t belong here,” she said.

Zazo said 39 of Chipman’s 639 students are from outside of Alameda, and 22 of them have a 3.0 average or higher. She said all of the district’s transfer students are required to sign a contract governing their behavior, attendance and grades.

She said Chipman is a good place to begin the district’s conversations on race: Roughly 31 percent of the school’s students are African-American, and about 85 percent are non-white. But the test score disparities are district-wide: African-American students scored lower than any other subgroup but disabled students this year.

This year is the first year they’ve focused on race, using staff meetings to talk to teachers about race and testing out new teaching strategies like “choral” responses to questions (instead of individual students raising their hands).

Superintendent Ardella Dailey said the district will continue to work on this issue.

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