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Post Foundation Initiative
Odds Long For CMS’ Academically Challenged African-American Students
 
Published Sunday, September 14, 2008
by Ellison Clary, For The Foundation

"Straight Talk" interview with Bea Thompson on Study

CHARLOTTE – Results of a study of more than 6,000 African-American students from the most academically challenged campuses in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suggest they need learning help as early as possible.

By third grade, fewer than half of African-American students from these schools, both girls and boys, score above proficiency levels on state end-of-grade tests for mathematics and reading. By eighth grade, more than three-quarters of those who were behind in third grade were not proficient in Algebra I and English I, courses CMS students must pass to graduate.

Fewer than 10 percent reached proficiency in college preparatory courses such as Biology and Chemistry. And of 786 students who repeated ninth grade at least once, 78 percent were below reading proficiency in the third grade.

“Our goal was to find when we should start intervention services for students in these challenged schools,” said Dr. Jeffery Shears, who performed the study. “Results show that should be as early as possible, by kindergarten, if not before.”

Shears is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a researcher with The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Institute for Social Capital, Inc. Dr. Sharon Portwood, executive director of the Institute for Social Capital and professor of Public Health Sciences, is a member of The Charlotte Post Foundation board. Dr. Portwood also was a member of the research team, along with Dr. Lyndon Abrams, associate professor of Counseling.

At its annual Post Best banquet in 2007, The Charlotte Post Foundation announced a commitment to focusing on systematic problems that impede educational progress for African-American students. Gerald Johnson, publisher of The Charlotte Post newspaper and head of the Post Foundation, pledged the Foundation would “become actively involved in the solution process to problems plaguing a generation of African-American children.”

Johnson said he agrees with Shears that the results of this study mirror what has been found in other urban areas. The results for CMS, he said, will help The Charlotte Post Foundation decide where to invest resources aimed at improving the academic performance of African-American students in Charlotte.

“We are indebted to Jeff Shears because he has devoted the better part of a year to determine that intervention at the earliest ages is what must happen with African-American students at academically challenged schools,” Johnson said.

“With this in mind, The Charlotte Post Foundation will begin determining which groups dedicated to improving classroom performance should get help from us,” he said.

More information will come from the Foundation soon, Johnson added, some as early as September 20 when The Charlotte Post honors civil rights attorney Julius Chambers with its “Luminary – Lifetime Achievement” award at a banquet in the Westin Hotel. The banquet raises money for the Foundation, which provides college scholarships for deserving African-American students in CMS.

Shears examined CMS data for African-American students attending schools CMS identified as enrolling a high number of children who need individual attention and extra support. The students were enrolled at any time from the 2000-2001 school year to the 2006-2007 year.

Results suggest that just 39 percent of third-grade girls on these campuses scored as proficient in mathematics on end-of-grade tests sanctioned by the state of North Carolina. Only 44 percent were proficient in reading. By fifth grade, proficiency in math was 59 percent and 53 percent in reading. By eighth grade, it was 64 percent proficiency in math and 71 percent in reading.

For third grade boys, the proficiency numbers were 36 percent in math and 34 percent in reading for third grade, 56 percent in math and 52 percent in reading by fifth grade and 59 percent for math and 59 percent in reading for eighth grade.

The earliest that CMS has such numbers is third grade, Shears explained.

Shears also determined that, of students who scored at the lowest levels of reading in third grade, 76 percent were not proficient in Algebra I and 79 percent were not proficient in English I, courses required for CMS graduation.

Numbers are grimmer for college preparatory courses, the study showed. When students were at the lowest levels of reading in the third grade, 93 percent lacked proficiency in Biology. Of 1,610 poor performing third graders, only 409 ever enrolled in Chemistry and 92 percent were not proficient in the course.

Students can graduate from CMS without reaching proficiency on state tests, Shears pointed out. But for the 786 African-American students who repeated the ninth grade at least once, 78 percent scored below proficiency levels for math and reading in the third grade.

Students who repeat the ninth grade are prime candidates to drop out, Shears said. For dropouts, crime and other at-risk activity increases dramatically, he added.

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