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America's educational system—still lagging behind

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Sep 7, 2009 - 7:25:20 AM

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TAMPA, Fla. (FinalCall.com) - As math and science scores for students around the globe are increasing, the United States continues to lag behind countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, England and Latvia according to an international assessment of student achievement in a report released by the National Education Center for Statistics.

The August report was called “The Condition of Education.”

“In math, our 15-year-olds' scores now lag behind those of 31countries. In science, our eighth graders' scores now lag behind their peers in eight countries that had also participated in the original assessment. In reading, five countries have improved their performance and surpassed our 4th graders,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“These results show that for us to stay competitive and move forward we have to get our students ready for global competition. That's why I so strongly support the work of our governors and chief state school officers to develop a set of common internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards that will help put our students' performance on par with other top performing countries.”

As America struggles to close the world achievement gap, Black students are struggling to close the achievement gap with classmates in the United States. Black high school dropout rates are at alarming levels and chances are if a Black child does graduate and wants to go college, the next hurdle is taking the Accuplacer Tests.

The “dreaded” Accuplacer Tests were developed by the College Board to assess students' academic skills in math, English, and reading. Academic advisors and counselors use the test results to determine course selection in conjunction with a student's academic background, goals, and interests.

Low scores on the tests send students directly to remedial classes that often don't count for college credit and are prerequisites to college level classes.

Carter Madison (name changed) took the Accuplacer test at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. last year. He has been stuck in remedial classes for the past two semesters.

“I finally passed one this summer. I think I know what I'm doing but when test time comes I don't pass. It's getting more and more frustrating. I want to go to college, this is hard work and I'm not getting the help I need or maybe I'm not asking the right questions,” he told The Final Call.

“I'm embarrassed to even talk about this. I should be doing better than this but I'm not. I can only take two classes, which are remedials, and have to pass these before I can take real college courses. “

Dr. Daryao Khatari, a physics professor at the University of the District of Columbia, saw this problem over and over.

“Too many students take remediation classes, sometimes two or more,” he told The Final Call. “Only 12-15 percent of these students ever graduate. Eighty-five percent of the UDC students take remediation math. They take one year to complete remediation classes that don't count toward graduation. Many get frustrated and don't graduate.”

Dr. Khatari saw his physics students, mostly from D.C. public schools, unprepared for the rigor of his classes and began to wonder what could be done so those students wouldn't have to take remediation classes.

“This is a national problem,” said Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephen, president of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. “We know that we have to set high expectations and provide discipline for students. We can't let them languish in remedial classes. Faculty has to take the responsibility for student's learning.”

“Fifty percent of students require remediation in either math, reading or English. We have to provide remedial courses in high school.”

Dr. Khatari started the Gateway Algebra Program (GAP), which in just four years has become a nationally recognized eight-week summer crash program to help inner city high school students avoid first-year remedial math and help them chart science career goals.

The program caught the attention of Bill and Melinda Gates, of the Gates Foundation, who wanted students they could financially help with college to participate in the GAP program. The program helped the students to get into college and test out of remediation classes.

“I see a gold mine of students,” said Dr. Khatari, “It's an invisible gold mine because no one wants to go and get them. I don't believe the myths that parents don't care or that you can't teach these children.

“I was able to teach them. They want to learn and they can learn.”

Dr. Khatari took GAP to one of D.C.'s worst high schools, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. All of his students passed the Accuplacer Tests.

“I spent four months at Dunbar. The country has no math, physics or chemistry majors. We import them,” he said. “The program helps students decide to a major in math and science. This country needs this. The program doesn't allow calculators, cell phones or Ipods. Once they are in the room, the door is locked. They can only go to the restroom during the break time. We have no books. They must learn problem solving.”

“It's not students or parents who have failed. It's the system. In public schools, students are in charge. I was told over and over again, ‘Don't go there, you'll be mugged, you won't last three days.' I was determined to succeed. By the time I was through, the students had matured. It takes a common sense approach. Tell them what to do and they will do it. The system has lost control of the children.”

The GAP program doesn't work because its students are the best of the worst and just need prodding. It takes the most “academically challenged students” and puts them to work. “The day I passed Accuplacer changed my life. I can do anything now,” a male student said to Dr. Khatari.

(For more information on the GAP Program) contact Dr. Khatari at 202-274-5570 or dkhatari@udc.edu.)

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