The gap in school test scores between white and minority students is growing, and the Lawrence school district - teachers and parents included - needs a way to address the issue, district officials said.
"Clearly we have a problem," Bruce Passman, the district's deputy superintendent, said Tuesday night during a discussion of the topic at the district service center, 110 McDonald Drive.
The Lawrence-Douglas County NAACP and the Lawrence Public Library sponsored the forum. Teachers and parents filled the audience.
The gap in standardized test scores between white and minority students can't be explained away, Passman said, because a variety of factors enter into the testing. Motivation and attitude factor in, especially at the high school level, where results between white and minority students vary drastically.
"That concerns us," Passman said. "That tells us something."
But, he said, the results are real and valid, leaving the district with troubling questions about how teachers instruct students, and how the tests themselves reflect a student's abilities.
Teachers on the panel Tuesday said the testing process often was frustrating. There have been three major revisions to standard math and reading tests, including at the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002.
The No Child Left Behind Act put new emphasis on standardized testing, holding teachers accountable for their students' scores regardless of individual considerations. The tests are typically given once in elementary school, once in middle school and again in high school.
Joe Snyder, principal at Free State High School, said test score reliability also hinged on the access students have to the specific material covered on the test. With so many changes, schools have a difficult time keeping up.
So how do the tests reflect a student's abilities?
"It may not be a true indicator of what they know," said Steve Nilhas, principal of Lawrence High School.
Rather, the tests - and the wide racial gap - may indicate certain environmental pressures students from different races or economic classes feel in school. Or they simply may show how well they do on tests.
"This is not about intelligence," former LHS administrator Willie Amison said from the crowd.
Amison said to close the gap, black and other minority students would have to deal with the culture that builds up around minority or at-risk kids.
Cathy White agreed. The Prairie Park School teacher said many minority students did well in school, and there should be some kind of dialogue between all minority students to find out why some kids thrive while others struggle.
Chances are, White said, it has to do with culture. Many students perceive doing well in school with acting white or uppity - and in doing so ostracizing themselves from their peers.
"How do you deal with this? I have no clue," White said.