Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide by Dr. Jeanne Beckman

Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide   by Dr. Jeanne Beckman
Finally, a book to help families find the right technology to accommodate reading disorders (dyslexia) and other disabilties! ISBN 978-1-60264-089-4

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Students need access to regular curricula AND specialized tutoring

In an article in the Chicago SunTimes, there was the usual lamenting about inner city students who are falling behind their peers on the ACT and Prairie State exams, the usual hand-wringing about how the curriculum needs to be changed, and the usual claims that poor students cannot benefit from the traditional high schools.

Chicago students' achievement gap

November 1, 2007


At Hyde Park Academy, a neighborhood high school serving black, mostly low-income students, reading scores have dropped dramatically over the last five years.

At the same time, at Payton, a selective public high school that is 40 percent white and 30 percent poor, scores have gone through the roof.

Natasha Cavitt teaches a junior English class Tuesday at Noble Street Charter School, which has seen a boost in Hispanic students' scores.

The gulf between these two schools — and others like them — is fueling a growing achievement gap among students in Chicago.

Over the last five years, minority and low-income public high school students have fallen even farther behind their white and more affluent classmates on state tests and the ACT, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.

The backward slide shows up on reading and math scores on the eleventh grade Prairie State Achievement Exams (PSAE) and on ACT composite scores, test data released today show.

For students shut out of the selective college preps like Payton, it can be like a "death sentence," one activist said.

"Either you get into those schools or you're in schools where you're more likely to end up in prison than in college," said Madeline Talbott, head organizer for Illinois ACORN.

The news of the growing achievement gap comes six years after passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which explicitly aims to narrow this gap. The law is up for re-authorization.

The achievement gap widened because scores for white and wealthier kids increased more than for blacks, Hispanics and poor students, especially on the PSAE. In reading, minority and poor student scores are lower than in 2003. Hispanics improved their math scores.

On the ACT, minority students made more gains, outpacing the growth of black and Hispanic peers statewide and nationally. Still, their gains lagged behind white gains.

In Chicago elementary schools, the gap has narrowed significantly, but changes to state tests in 2006 make long-term comparisons questionable, experts say. There were no changes to the high school tests.

Outside Chicago, the gap between Downstate and suburban whites and blacks also grew but not as severely as in Chicago. That's because non-Chicago whites didn't improve much. Scores for non-Chicago blacks dropped since 2003, even more than in Chicago. The gap stayed the same for Hispanics.

Critics blame Chicago's high school achievement gap on its neighborhood schools, which serve most low-income and minority students.

This "reflect[s] the lack of effort by the Chicago Board to correct the deplorable conditions under which many low-income and disabled African American and Hispanic eleventh graders have to learn," said researcher Don Moore, director of the reform group Designs for Change. He cited overcrowding, violence and lousy facilities.

But the growing gap also is clearly fueled by an increase over the last five years in the caliber of white students enrolling in CPS. Between 2003 and 2007, scores for Chicago whites improved significantly more than they did for suburban and Downstate whites, the Sun-Times found.

White Chicago students are clustered in the city's selective college preps and the competition to get in has skyrocketed since 2003, increasing the ability of such schools to take top students. Scores for incoming freshmen are significantly higher than they were five years ago.

Chicago's white students are also better off financially than they were five ago. The percent of low-income CPS whites has dropped from 47 to 42 percent since 2003.

At the same time, CPS' dropout rate has declined. This likely means more low-scoring kids are still around to take eleventh grade tests, Schools CEO Arne Duncan argued.

Those demographic trends highlight a hard truth, Duncan and several principals and experts said.

"The traditional large high school, particularly in inner city neighborhoods, doesn't work for students," Duncan said.

Since 2003, minority student scores have gone up at some neighborhood schools but the biggest gains came at the selective enrollments and two charter schools that accept kids by lottery. These include North Lawndale College Prep, Noble Street Charter School, Brooks, Payton and Lincoln Park, a neighborhood school with three programs for advanced students.

Critics view those trends as evidence of a tier-tied education system. Duncan says CPS is already working to improve its neighborhood schools.

Last year, he began revamping curriculums at low-scoring schools. By 2011, up to 75 schools will undergo an instructional overhaul including new curriculum, materials, tests, teacher training and coaching. It's in place at 25 schools.

Duncan also pointed to Renaissance 2010, which closes failing schools and re-opens them as new ones.

Chicago's Noble Street Charter School, which has dramatically boosted Hispanic student scores since 2003, is being cloned as part of Renaissance 2010. It started with one campus. By next fall it will have seven in Chicago. As a public charter school, Noble has more freedom to hire staff and has lengthened its day and year by 15 percent.

"There are some things that work better for some ethnic groups, but by and large what makes the difference is good instruction, strong discipline and more time on task," said Michael Milkie, who started the first Noble Street campus and now oversees all of them.

Critics of Renaissance 2010, including Don Moore, believe the effort actually hurts minority students. The high schools that have re-opened so far are much smaller than the schools they replaced. And the closures send students to schools outside their neighborhood, often crossing gang lines, leading to increased violence and discipline problems.

Violence at Hyde Park Academy, a neighborhood school, spiked after it took in students from closed schools, though school officials say those kids weren't the biggest discipline problems. A new principal is trying to turn the school around with new test prep courses and more attention to freshman.

Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Rosalind Rossi,cst-nws-gap31web.article#

What I still don't see in the media is why no one is asking whether there are other explanations for why students from higher socioeconomic families do so much better in school. One question to ask is how much these families are spending on private tutoring. Some families in Winnetka, for example, even with their "good" schools, spend $20-30 thousand dollars per year for private specialized tutoring because they believe that their schools do not provide adequate attention to the necessary specialized tutoring for their children who struggle with reading and writing. These families are frustrated with segregated classes and other administrative barriers that prevent many students from accessing curricula that will keep these students from languishing in lifelong underachievement. They are also frustrated with the administrative barriers that allow only certain students to use the technology tools (such as audio books, text to speech, and voice recognition) for accessing the regular curriculum. While some of these "good" schools allow some students with high IQs and learning disabilities to use the technology, they prevent other students who are "just slow learners" (or "ADD" or others with difficulties that affect their ability to learn) from using technology tools in order to benefit from the regular curriculum. Does it make sense?

I just don't understand why administrators are still getting away with essentially only teaching the students who can learn in ANY environment, and segregating students, through poor specialized tutoring (remediation) and lack of accommodated access to the regular curriculum.

Today, on Super Tuesday, where citizens of many states are exercising their constitutional right to vote, I am beginning my list of a student's Bill of Rights:
  1. EVERY student, regardless of perceived degree of disability, has a right to access the same regular, full curriculum as his or her non-disabled peers. If the student needs access accommodations to be able to learn from this curriculum, then the student has the right to appropriately individualized access accommodations.
  2. EVERY student has the right to learn, and every family has the right to provide input to the administrative policies and decision-making process of their schools. While school attorneys often advise administrators to avoid written policies, schools administrators are the employees of the community, and must be responsive to ALL of the community's children's needs.
  3. The administrative claim that a student "must learn the regular way" prior to attending a mainstream class is similar to old segregationist tactics of reading tests and poll taxes prior to being allowed to vote.
  4. EVERY student has the right to access tools in order to achieve full benefit from the regular curriculum. While many technology experts claim that a student should always start with "low tech" first, I believe that students should always start with access tools that would assist the student in most closely approximating the non-disabled student's learning input and output. This means that, if non-disabled students read at a certain speed, then the disabled student needs technology that will assist the student in reading at that same speed. A disabled student also needs access to a method of producing written output that approximates the speed of the non-disabled student, whether dictating to a human scribe or using computerized voice recognition technology.
  5. EVERY student has the right to fully access his or her full learning potential. Administrators who claim that schools are not obligated to "maximize potential" of students are just using plain bullying tactics and obfuscation to perpetuate segregation. Our country, our communities, our businesses cannot afford to waste ANY potential of ANY student.
  6. EVERY student, regardless of perceived degree of disability, has the right to access research validated, individualized tutoring in order to improve areas of weakness. This tutoring must be provided by teachers (who have been certified in administering THAT SPECIFIC research-validated intervention program) outside of the regular curriculum at a separate time so that the student will be able to fully participate in the full, regular curriculum with his or her "non-disabled" peers.
  7. EVERY student who does not demonstrate adequate progress in the regular curriculum has the right to a timely, full battery of testing in order to determine what he or she needs in order to learn, and needs an immediate, detailed plan for remediation and accommodation in order to receive full benefit from school. Subjecting a student to "waiting to fail enough," or to retention ("failing") policies is punishing the victim of failed attention to the learning needs of that student. "S0cial promotion" without attending to the learning needs of the student is also punishing the victim and is a political strategy to avoid addressing failed administrative policies.
  8. RTI (response to intervention) was designed for young students who had not been in school long enough to demonstrate that they had not acquired the regular curriculum at an adequate pace. RTI is NOT "wait and see" but requires schools to utilize a research-validated intervention of increasing intensity to determine whether the student is only immature or in need of a full evaluation. Parents are supposed to have the right to request a full evaluation at any time during the RTI, so it is bullying for administrators to say that they do not need to do an evaluation because they are doing RTI.
  9. Using RTI for older students is a stalling tactic used by schools to avoid costly testing and specialized remediation. There are some schools that even ignore private testing indicating a learning disability for older students, claiming they are doing RTI instead.
  10. EVERY student who needs special support has the right to teachers who believe in meeting the learning needs of every student. EVERY TEACHER has the right to the necessary in-class and planning supports for meeting the needs of all students in the class.
  11. EVERY student has the right to access the classrooms of his or her age peers. "Self-contained," "resource," or other euphemisms for segregated classrooms are in violation of the Brown v Board of Education ruling which found that "separate but equal" schools are not equal.
  12. There is research that indicates that learning and performance is better for ALL individuals in heterogeneous rather than homogeneous environments. Level classes and other academic grouping systems are just another word for segregated classrooms and deprive all levels of students from benefiting from the heterogeneous communities they will participate in as adults.
  13. Coming soon....
© Dr. Jeanne Beckman
If you or a family member have difficulties that prevent full benefit from your learning/work/leisure environments, you can find out about technology tools and strategies for changing institutional barriers in my new book, The Tech Psychologist's Guide. For more information about my book, please go to my website,

In addition to individual testing, technology training, and advocacy, I am also available to speak to parent groups about community strategies for changing their schools. For more information, please go to my website,