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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 01 July 2009

SEATTLE (AP) -- While students are doing slightly better each year on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the success rates of African-American, American Indian, Latino and Pacific Islander students shows Washington has a long way to go in improving school achievement for everyone.
Despite a lack of state money for new initiatives, the Washington Legislature has formed a new committee to tackle the "achievement gap.''
But instead of focusing on tutoring or other special services for students, the committee is charged with helping teachers improve their "cultural competence.''
"Quality education is not something we can sell as a one-size-fits-all model,'' says House Education Committee Chair Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, a lawmaker appointed to the committee. "If we're serious about helping every student succeed, we must take into account the unique cultural and community influences that affect how students learn.''
Parents, advocacy groups and Washington education officials have long discussed the state's "achievement gap.'' Will the work of another committee make a difference?
Erin Jones, director of the Center for Improvement of Student Learning at the state education office, is hopeful it will. She is staffing the committee and appears to be one of its first cheerleaders.
"This work is really unique and it's very exciting,'' she said.
The aim of the project is to create a teacher training module to prepare educators work in diverse communities. Jones believes this training and other ideas coming out of the Legislature and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will lead to improvements in student test scores.
Spring WASL scores showed most ethnic groups were meeting the state high school standard for reading and writing at close to the rate for all students, but on-time graduation rates remain low for American Indian, Pacific Islander, African-American, Hispanic and multiracial students.
Seven out of 10 Washington students graduate on time, but only half of American Indian students and 60 percent of African-American and Hispanic students get a diploma after four years of high school.
Jones describes the cultural competence training by pointing out the different ways children are taught to show respect to adults. She says white Americans are taught to look a person in the eye when they are talking to you, but many Asian children and some African-American kids are trained to look down when being reprimanded by an adult.
During her 15 years in the classroom, Jones saw more kids get kicked out of class for not looking a teacher in the eye than almost anything else. She expects the training will be practical and benefit teachers, students and their families.
The Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee also is assigned the task of taking the findings and recommendations of five study groups from 2008 -- one each for the African-American, Native American, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities -- and combining them into one document.
The groups came up with a number of similar recommendations, including the cultural competence training. Other common ideas included family and community engagement, more focus on standard English, and recruiting and training teachers who come from the diverse ethnic groups of Washington.
The work will be done with support of the Professional Educator Standards Board and the state Board of Education.
One of their long-term goals is to attract federal dollars to push the program along.
"We're really hoping at OSPI to get some attention here in Washington state,'' she said.

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