Examining the Implications of NCLB in African American Early Literacy Achievement: Recommendations for Educators
University of North Carolina at Charlotte Introduc)on
There are easily recognizable linguistic differences that appear in any classroom in the nation, however, most commonly, African American students have the most difficulty with their native dialects in a classroom learning environment (Blake & Sickle, 2001; Champion, Rosa-Lugo, Rivers, & McCabe, 2010; Craig & Washington, 2004). The language transition an urban student must then undergo is termed as dialect shifting (Terry, Connor, Thomas-Tate & Love, 2010). In written and verbal communication forms, African American students in highly populated areas are not performing as well in reading and writing when compared to other racial/ethnic groups as proven in national reports (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2011). Reflective of standardized or high-stakes testing, research shows how there is a perceived achievement gap amongst African American students that begins at the elementary level and continues to widen as these students move to higher grade levels (NCES, 2011). As African American children are introduced to the educational experience, they must quickly adapt to what is termed as ‘dialect shifting’ not only as a survival tactic in the schooling system, but also as a valuable means to become versatile in the culture of language. Fogel and Ehri (2006) note that the dominant group in education is considered to be white-middle class children who are readily equipped for speech, reading, or written tasks because assessments are formatted in their language contexts. In recognition of these language differences that exist in the classroom, students of color need to be taught how to dialect shift as a means to not only participate in the classroom, but also as a way to demonstrate their academic proficiency on standardized assessments.
Dialect as a Factor in Academic Achievement A growing concern is the language contexts in which assessments, performance indicators, and overall curriculum measures have been formulated and their relationship to the achievement levels of African American students. Linguistically biased instruction is one factor that has affected the academic success of students in the early grade levels. African American children, through their native dialect need reiteration on phonological awareness and vocabulary development in order to bridge the disconnect that exists between print and
speech forms (Terry et al., 2010). The most critical time for students to learn this skill would be in the primary grade levels for speech and oral reading (Craig & Washington, 2004). Another study concludes that standardized assessments are not useful instruments in identifying the oral reading proficiency of urban African American students with varying levels of African American English (Champion et al., 2010).
Na)onal Policies Language acquisition and literacy development policies vary amongst the states; however, most argue that Classroom English is the only appropriate communication and standard form for all students regardless of ethnic/racial composition. This perspective of ‘Standard English’ speaks to the enormity of the problem that every other language form or dialect is substandard. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) spurred national educational agendas that later led to policies that sought to advance the literacy levels of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Reading First was among one of first initiatives that focused on establishing reading programs for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade to ensure that students were reading on grade level by the end of grade 3. Early Reading First was the second initiative that attempted to support early language and literacy development for students from low-income families through professional development and teacher education. Even Start, a federal initiative that targeted low-income parents and their children began in 2003 as a follow up to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The program was designed to assist children in reaching their full learning potential by bridging the home and school as a learning partnership. The last initiative under NCLB, Improving Literacy through School Libraries increased access of current library materials for schools who had high percentages of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and also provided certified library media specialists at these schools. While the primary focus of these policies have been increasing the literacy levels of students in the primary grades, little to no attention has been given on the factor of dialectal difference as an indicator of student literacy levels. Seemingly, the greatest benefactors of these initiatives have been adults and children who are defined as English
language learners or having limited English proficiency. In many cases, African American adults and their children do not fall into this category because their native and communal dialects stem from the English language.
Findings This policy report uses the Condition of Education 2011: Indicator 11 Reading Achievement Gaps (NCES, 2011) to examine the rates at which 4th grade students averaged by their reading performance in terms of race/ethnic groups and school characteristics. With the national average reading score for 4th grade students in 2005 being 219, African American students’ averages ranged below nineteen points; compared to their white counterparts who performed ten points higher than the national average (see Figure 1). Again in 2007, African American students fell below average by eighteen points, and in 2009, data concluded a continual under the national average by sixteen points for African American students. This information demonstrates how reading assessments may be skewed in language contexts. Students who speak and write in their native dialects and are not familiar with the skill of dialect shifting may be experiencing greater difficulty in understanding and performing standardized assessments (Terry et al. 2010). Figure 1: Average Reading Scale Scores for 4th graders by race/ethnicity
Research has attributed African American dialects to be greater from students who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Terry et al., 2010). To demonstrate the nature of literacy achievement for African American students, data collected shows the percentage of students in school who are eligible for free or reduced lunch and their reading achievement ratings.
NCLB Policy cont.
POLICY BREF Fall 2011
Illustrated in Figure 2, 4th grade students from low poverty areas surpass the national reading average whereas those who would be categorized in the upper-middle class and lower-middle class ranges span near the national average. However, students from high poverty areas fall below the national average by 22 points in 2005, 21 points in 2007, and 19 points in 2009 (see Figure 2).
Even Start proved to not have significant gain for the student and parent populations it sought out to serve. In fact, the program was criticized for
being synonymous to the Head Start program, but not having the same results to demonstrate improvement or effectiveness (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2011). The last initiative under NCLB (2001) amendments, Figure 2: Improving Literacy through School Libraries, Average Reading Scale Scores of 4th graders by reported that data could not reflect if this student and school characteris=cs initiative had improved test scores at any level (US Department of Education, 2009).
opportunity to self-correct rather than just being given correct responses by their instructors. To this notion, it makes more sense that an adaptation can occur more naturally and meaningfully when students are cognizant of their own errors. Teach students how to code-switch. Blake and Sickle (2001) examined how when students increased their ability to code-switch from African American English to Classroom English, academic progress drastically increased. The need to develop content-specific language constructs would help to enable students to pass tests and communicate more dynamically within mainstream society.
Develop an appreciation for dual dialects. In realization to these dialectal differences and the Vary the reading assessments. With one single necessity to ‘code switch’ this vernacular in test being the primary indicator for academic certain situations, Jonsberg (2001) asserts that performance, current school practices over rely African American students should be proud of on these assessments. Furthermore, in terms of their ‘bilingualism’ such as others who are attaining accurate educational information, there affluent in other languages. Suggestive measures is a surge for assessments that will not be include teachers have a diverse and respectful discriminatory or negate the cultural, linguistic, attitude about the various historical languages and socioeconomic factors of the student. This that students bring to the classroom. trend also notes the importance of the African American student’s ability to shift their dialect in Rely on academic interventions. Pittman (2007) order to be proven competent on such oral, found in her research regarding improving the reading, and written examinations in order to spelling ability for African American Vernacular English speakers, “sounds have to be explicitly meet grade promotion standards. taught to students, and students have to be made Relay cultural relevance to instruction. Teachers aware of the way, in which they are pronouncing need to know as much as possible about the sounds in their dialect” (p.120). Additionally, culture that students bring into the classroom to there is a need to train educators on the facilitate student learning (Fogel & Ehri, 2006). phonological and morphological differences of Teachers also need to be sensitized to the Standard American English and African difficulties that dialect-speaking students face in American Vernacular English. These differences learning new dialect forms in the classroom will help educators to demonstrate differentiated (Fogel & Ehri, 2006). Student achievement is instructional practices that will best serve the maximized when students are given an needs of the student.
Policy Implica)ons These findings affirm that the national policies currently in effect that target low socioeconomic classes are demonstrating meager progress as it pertains to the early literacy levels of African American students. Reading First was a costly, but short-lived fix to the reading achievement ratings for primary grade students. Results of the study found that reading scores had no major changes that the years prior (Toppo, 2008). The Early Reading First program showed more promise with performance ratings for student vocabulary levels increasing, however, the average scores were still
below national averages and are indicative of the economically disadvantaged children having the greatest loss in academics (Johnston, 2010).
Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., Tahan, K. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-033). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Blake, M. E. & Sickle, M.V. (2001). Helping linguistically diverse students share what they know. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(5), 468-475. Champion, T.B., Rosa-Lugo, L.I., Rivers, K.O., & McCabe, A. (2010). A preliminary investigation of second- and fourth-grade African American students’ performance on the Gray Oral Reading Test-Fourth edition. Topics in Language Disorders, 30(2), 145-153. Craig, H. K., & Washington, J. A. (2004). Grade-Related Changes in the Production of African American English. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 47(2), 450-463. DOI:10.1044/1092-4388(2004/036) Fogel, H. & Ehri, L.C. (2006). Teaching African American English forms to standard American English-Speaking teachers: Effects on acquisition, attitudes, and responses to student use. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(5), 464-480. Johnston, J. (2010, August). Early reading results show substantial improvements in reading skills. Vanderbuilt University. Retrieved from: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2010/08/early-results-show-substantial-improvements-in-reading-skills/ Jonsberg, S.D. (2011). What’s (White) teacher to do about Black English? The English Journal, 90(4), 51-53. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (2011). Even start facts and figures: Student achievement and school accountability programs. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/sasa/esfacts.html. Pittman, R. (2007) Improving spelling ability among speakers of African American Vernacular English: An intervention based on phonological, morphological, and orthographic principles. Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States -- Texas. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses @ Texas A&M System.(Publication No. AAT 3281137). Terry, N., Connor, C., Thomas-Tate, S., & Love, M. (2010). Examining Relationships Among Dialect Variation, Literacy Skills, and School Context in First Grade. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 53(1), 126-145. Toppo, G. (2008, May). Study: Bush’s reading first program ineffective. U.S.A. Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-05-01-reading-first_N.htm. U.S. Department of Education (2003). Guidance for the William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Programs. Part B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). U.S. Department of Education (2009). The second evaluation of the Improving Literacies through School Libraries program. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/other/libraries/libraries09.pdf. U.S. Department of Education (2011). National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Selected Years 1992-2009 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. References
Suggested ita,on: Sco$, L.M. (2011). K., Examining he Kemp, implica/ons of K. NCLB in AThe frican American early literacy achievement: Recommenda/ons educators (UNCC UERPC Aud, S.,CHussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, Frohlich, tL., J., Tahan, (2011). Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-033). U.S. Department offor Education, National Center forPolicy Report, September, 2011, No. 1) Charlo$e, NC: University of North Carolina DC: at CU.S. harlo$e, College of EducaHon, Education Statistics. Washington, Government Printing Office. Urban EducaHon Research and Policy CollaboraHve. Blake, M. E. & Sickle, M.V. (2001). Helping linguistically diverse students share what they know. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(5), 468-475. Champion, T.B., Rosa-Lugo, L.I., Rivers, K.O., & McCabe, A. (2010). A preliminary investigation of second- and fourth-grade African American students’ performance on the Gray Oral Submission Guidelines: Reading Test-Fourth edition. Topics in Language Disorders, 30(2), 145-153. The Craig, Urban ducaHon Research nd Policy CollaboraHve accepts manuscripts for review and publicaHon onsideraHon for t& he Hearing Research Brief s47(2), eries. Submi$ed manuscripts should not exceed H.EK., & Washington, J. A.a(2004). Grade-Related Changes in the Production of African American English. Journalcof Speech, Language Research, 450-463. 1,000 words and must conform to the guidelines outlined in the 6th EdiHon of the Publica/on Manual of the American Psychological Associa/on. All manuscripts will undergo a blind review and DOI:10.1044/1092-4388(2004/036) Fogel, p H.rocess. & Ehri, TL.C. English3forms to standard American English-Speaking teachers: Effects on and responses to student use. refereed he r(2006). eview Teaching process African takes aAmerican pproximately -‐4 weeks. Manuscripts can be submi$ed for review via acquisition, e-‐mail to attitudes, Dr. Chance Lewis (email@example.com). Journal of Teacher Education, 57(5), 464-480. Correspondence regarding this report may be sent via e-‐mail to: lsco:firstname.lastname@example.org Johnston, J. (2010, August). Early reading results show substantial improvements in reading skills. Vanderbuilt University. Retrieved from: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2010/08/early-results-show-substantial-improvements-in-reading-skills/ Jonsberg, S.D. (2011). What’s (White) teacher to do about Black English? The English Journal, 90(4), 51-53. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (2011). Even start facts and figures: Student achievement and school accountability programs. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/sasa/esfacts.html. Pittman, R. (2007) Improving spelling ability among speakers of African American Vernacular English: An intervention based on phonological, morphological, and orthographic principles. Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States -- Texas. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses @ Texas A&M System.(Publication No. AAT