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Dixon, Maressa L.
African American perceptions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and high school graduation
h [electronic resource] /
by Maressa L. Dixon.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
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Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: While there is ample research theorizing reasons for so-called "achievement gaps" between African American and White students on standardized tests, few studies explore African Americans' perceptions of the impact these tests have on overall education. Through interviews with six current students attending Hillsborough County public high schools, one recent graduate of a Hillsborough County high school, and two parents of students in Hillsborough County public schools, this research study probes participants' perceptions of the impact of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) on their high school experiences. All participants in the study identified as African American or Black. Through archival research and participant observation with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope (TBAH), a non-profit organization dedicated to developing leadership, behavioral, and academic skills for inner-city middle and high school students, this study also investigates the role of community-based organizations in facilitating the successful navigation of academic and bureaucratic challenges for African American students and parents in the quest for academic success at and beyond the high school level in Hillsborough County. The consequences of standardized testing in the Hillsborough County schools participants have attended reach beyond individuals' successful graduation, affecting course options, academic tracking, school structure, and school climate. Here I argue that standardized testing is another method of academic tracking, and school-wide penalties and rewards associated with disaggregated standardized test scores impact student and parent perceptions of school climate and school-family relationship.
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Advisor: Kathryn M. Borman, Ph.D.
High school students
Critical Race Theory
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
African American Perceptions of the Flor ida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and High School Graduation by Maressa L. Dixon A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Kath ryn M. Borman, Ph.D. Susan D. Greembaum, Ph.D. Ken M. Williamson, Ph.D. Cheryl Rodriguez, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 1, 2009 Keywords: high school students, qualitative research, standardized testing, achievement gap, Critical Race Theory Copyright 2009, Maressa L. Dixon
Dedication This thesis is dedicated to Ronald and Brenda Dixon, who supported me in words and deeds throughout the course of my education. Knowing that educati on neither begins nor ends with formal schooling, their parental guidance has encouraged me to reach beyond heights I could only imagine. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge Kathryn M. Bo rman, Ph.D. for providing academic and professional guidance in this project from its inception to its final publication. I would also like to acknowledge Susan Greenbaum, Ph.D., Ken Williamson, Ph.D., and Cheryl Rodriguez, Ph.D. for providing invaluable knowledge of community-school relations, research design and implementation, and inte rpersonal relationships key to sustaining research and community activist endeavors. Many thanks go to James M. Evans and Tallie Gainer, III of the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope for allowing me to observe and participate in their tireless efforts at improving educationa l opportunities for students in Hillsborough County schools. Finally, and most importantly, I would like to acknowledge the students and parents who participated in this resear ch study for providing their expertise concerning education and schooling in their district and community. Without the support, patience, an d participation of these people, th is thesis would not have moved beyond the boundaries of my thoughts. Thank you.
i TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES iii LIST OF FIGURES iv ABSTRACT v CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1 Research Problem and Purpose 2 Significance of Thesis 6 The Use of Terms 7 Thesis Organization 9 CHAPTER TWO: RESEARCH SETTING 10 The School District of Hillsborough County, FL 10 A Brief History of African American Education 11 The School District Today: Hillsborough Choice 17 The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope 21 CHAPTER THREE: REVI EW OF LITERATURE 24 The Anthropology of Education Analytical Perspectives Used to Study African American Student Achievement and Standardized Testing 27 African American Students, Sta ndardized Testing, and Graduation 29 Trends in Standardized Te sting and Graduation Rates 42 Community Organizations and African American Students 47 CHAPTER FOUR: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY 52 Research Questions 54 Research Design and Operationalization 55 Participants 58 Data Collection 59 Data Analysis 60 CHAPTER FIVE: FINDINGS 64 FCAT Preparation, Testing, and Receiving of Scores 65 Teacher/Administrator Encouragement 71
ii FCAT 71 School Grades 76 Graduation Rates/Diploma Options 78 Experiences/Opinions of the FCAT 81 School Structure: Magnet Programs in Hillsborough County 87 Statistical Analyses 91 CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSI ONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 99 Conclusions 100 The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope as a Youth Development Service 104 Recommendations 106 What Students Say 106 Linking Grassroots Organizing to Student Experiences 110 Suggestions for Future Research 112 REFERENCES 114 APPENDICES 121 Appendix A: Definitions for Different Types of Diplomas 122 Appendix B: Student Interview Protocol 124
iii LIST OF TABLES Table 1: Descriptive Statistics: Achievement Measures for Black Students Compared to Total Enrollmen t, 10th-Grade Reading FCAT, 2007 93 Table 2: Descriptive Statistics: Achi evement Measures for White Students Compared to Total Enrollment, 10th-Grade Reading FCAT, 2007 94 Table 3: Principal Components Anal ysis: Total Variance Explained 95 Table 4 : Principal Components Analysis: Compone nt Matrix 96 Table 5: StudentsÂ’ Suggestions fo r Changing or Improving the FCAT 109
iv LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1: Graph of Schools Plotted Ag ainst Principal Components 1 and 2 98
v African American Perceptions of the Flor ida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and High School Graduation Maressa L. Dixon ABSTRACT While there is ample research theorizing reasons for so-called Â“achievement gapsÂ” between African American and White students on standardized tests, few studies explore African AmericansÂ’ perceptio ns of the impact these tests have on overall education. Through interviews with six current stude nts attending Hillsbor ough County public high schools, one recent graduate of a Hills borough County high school, and two parents of students in Hillsborough County public schools, this research study probes participantsÂ’ perceptions of the impact of the Florid a Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) on their high school experiences. A ll participants in the study id entified as African American or Black. Through archival re search and participant obser vation with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope (TBAH), a non-profit organi zation dedicated to de veloping leadership, behavioral, and academic skills for inner-city middle and high school students, this study also investigates the role of community-based organizations in fac ilitating the successful navigation of academic and bureaucratic chal lenges for African American students and
vi parents in the quest for academic succe ss at and beyond the high school level in Hillsborough County. The consequences of standardized te sting in the Hillsborough County schools participants have attended reach beyond indi vidualsÂ’ successful graduation, affecting course options, academic tracking, school structur e, and school climate. Here I argue that standardized testing is another method of academic tracking, and school-wide penalties and rewards associated with disaggregated st andardized test scores impact student and parent perceptions of school climate and school-family relationship.
1 CHAPTER ONE Introduction The research conducted as a part of th is thesis was completed between June 2007 and February 2008 in Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida. During the course of this research the author worked as an intern with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope (TBAH), a non-profit leadership academy serving urba n families. The mission of the TBAH is to, Â“instill in youth the values of becomi ng, knowing, belonging, and givingÂ” (Tampa Bay Academy of Hope 2008) through its Leadership Through Education model. According to the organizationÂ’s website, this model focuse s on Â“school attendance, school behavior, academic achievement, self-esteem, and l eadershipÂ” (Tampa Bay Academy of Hope 2008). Working as an intern with this program allowed me to engage in discussions and interviews with African American student s and parents concerning the impact of standardized testing on graduation and the ove rall quality of education they receive through the School District of Hillsborough County. This res earch originally focused on students who had taken the Tenth-Grade Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) at least once, and thei r parents. Due to research c onstraints, this study focuses only on student participants. This largely qual itative study was conducted in an effort to better understand the ways participants th ink about and experience the FCAT and graduation. I also explore the role community organizations such as the TBAH play in
2 addressing educational issues for African Am erican students. The resulting study outlines the social context within which Hillsbor ough County high schools operate, efforts at remedying educational problems initiated by the TBAH, and partic ipantsÂ’ views and opinions regarding the FCAT and graduation. Research Problem and Purpose While there is ample research theorizi ng reasons for so-called Â“achievement gapsÂ” between African American and White students on standardized tests, few studies explore African AmericansÂ’ perceptions of the impact these tests have on other aspects of schooling. Anthropologists who study the in tersection of African American student achievement, education policy, and culture have recently called for increased qualitative inquiry into the Â“multiple effectsÂ” of hi gh stakes testing on individuals, groups, and schools (see March 2007 special issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly ). Part of this inquiry that deserves pa rticular attention from the re search community, educators, policymakers, grassroots organizations, and th e general public, alike, is the voice of the students Â– their experiences, opinions, perceptions, and recommendations for change. The research problems I address with this study permeate multiple layers of our understanding of African Ameri can student achievement and th e tests that measure this achievement. First and foremost, deficit models of African American achievement continue to dominate the research literatur e, whereby researchers ask Â“why are African American students failing?Â” before examining the contexts in which success and failure are defined and realized. Second, African American students are most commonly considered a monolithic group, marked by academic failure, socio-economic disadvantage, and limited access to high quality schools. Third, policy research remains
3 heavily skewed toward outcomes that can be eas ily measured by statistics, like test scores and demographic makeup; this study examines the influence of educational policies on school culture and individual perceptions, wh ich in turn may influence quantifiable outcomes. Finally, efforts at school reform and school improvement target a large range of stakeholders, from state governmental bodie s to individual families. African American students and parents are more than just objects of reform dir ected at them, but are agents who actively negotiate these reforms and can analyze their effectiveness based on experiential knowledge. This study addresses these four resear ch problems primarily through qualitative inquiry, specifically semi-structured a nd unstructured interviewing, participantobservation, and archival data analysis. I also include explorat ory and descriptive statistical analyses where appropriate in or der to better contextualize the larger school district from which study pa rticipants draw their experi ential knowledge. The purpose of this study is to better und erstand the ways African Am erican students frame their thinking concerning the Tenth-Grade Florid a Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and graduation. This study tackles the first research probl em Â– the dominance of deficit models in examining African American academic achieve ment Â– by consciously avoiding questions of individual student achievement, except when students were asked if they received the test scores they originally expected and if they are on tr ack for graduation. The ways administrators and teachers discuss achievement for the schools these students attend were explored in depth during the interv iew process. The purpose of this line of questioning was to gauge participantsÂ’ awarenes s of and opinions regarding the impact of
4 teachersÂ’ and administratorsÂ’ discussions of the schoolÂ’s overall achievement on school climate. The demographic and achievement profile of the Hillsborough County School District is also provided thr ough descriptive and exploratory st atistical analyses, with the purpose of providing a broader context within which these individual students have been educated. This study focuses on participants Â’ opinions and attitudes toward the TenthGrade Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), including th eir perceptions of the testÂ’s impact on individual student achieve ment (i.e. graduation) and overall school climate. The second research problem Â– the tendency to treat African American students as a monolithic group Â– is addressed by the very diversity of study participants. Some students in this study were enrolled in honor s and Advanced Placement courses, others were tracked into regular academic c ourses, and others participated in technical/vocational programs or exceptional education courses. Complicating any simple academic characterizations even further, so me students placed in advanced academic tracks initially did not pass one or more porti ons of the FCAT, and others placed in low academic tracks expressed a distinct awarene ss of their misplacement. As is the case for many qualitative studies, this research highlig hts the nuances of individual studentsÂ’ achievement that are often lost when individu als are analyzed as small parts of a larger whole. The third research problem Â– a preocc upation with statistically analyzable demographic and academic characteristics Â– is addressed by foregrounding student experiences and opinions. It is not my intenti on to suggest that statis tical analysis is of little value; on the contrary, th is study includes statistical an alyses and quantitative data.
5 Neither do I claim that studies of African American studentsÂ’ experiences and opinions have not been conducted in the past. The aim of this research is, in fact, to add to our understanding of student perceptions and expe riences, painting a more holistic picture of the current state of education for African American students in a specific time and a specific place. The goal of this investiga tion is to move toward a more complex understanding of what it mean s to be an African American student in an urban school setting. I examine the fourth research problem Â– the tendency to treat student populations as objects of educational reform and improve ment rather than agents negotiating those reforms Â– through the very subject matter and participants involved in this research project. In other words, this project is rooted in a fundamental belief that African American students are cogently aware of a nd act in response to educational reform initiatives. The current wave of national e ducation reform outlines local, state, and federal educational standards and utilizes stat ewide tests to assess studentsÂ’ acquisition of these standards. Not only are students awar e of the academic consequences of (not) meeting those standards for individuals and schools, they are uniquely aware of the school-based social impact of those standards. The goal of th is study is to elucidate the ways by which participants frame their t houghts surrounding reform initiatives that stress the importance of standardized testing to academic advancement and graduation. The scope of this research project does not allow us to conc lusively solve these and other research problems fo r all African Americ an students in the country, this school district, or even the individual schools the pa rticipants attended. However, this study is one piece of a larger corpus of knowledge regarding African American studentsÂ’
6 experiences in urban high schools. This resear ch is intended to offer a glimpse into the ways African American students understa nd and act in accordance with educational reform efforts largely targeted at them. Significance of Thesis This study is important in that it provides African AmericansÂ’ perspectives on the consequences of standardized testing for individuals, the scho ols they attend, and, by extension, the entire School District of Hillsborough County. By focusing on the perceptions of students, this study adds to the research communityÂ’s relatively limited understanding of the ways these students view standardized te sting and the larger school structures impacted by such testing. By ex amining one community-based organizationÂ’s involvement in educational issues for African American students, this thesis is also significant in providing a glimpse into the non -school-based structures meant to improve student performance in schools. Combining st udent perceptions with overall demographic and achievement profiles for the schools they attend, this study is important in its contextualization of the expe riences and perceptions reco rded. This study helps us connect two types of knowledge about educa tion for African Americans: experiential (qualitative) knowledge and sta tistical (quantitative) knowledg e. In other words, this research is significant in that it links what th ese participants experience in the day-to-day operations of a school with the measures of academic achievement and efficacy that are officially recognized as measures of accountability to local, stat e, and federal officials, as well as parents, potential st udents, researchers, and ot her community members. While the FCAT and graduation goals we re developed by specific policymakers and educators for a specific state, the issues they raise are important to many
7 communities around the nation. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ties school accountability and funding to stan dardized tests, and research ers in many disciplines are examining the direct and indirect consequences of this testing for individual students, for schools, and for school districts (Valenzuela, et. al. 2007). This study is significant as an addition to this body of literature meant to augment, not necessarily replace, the knowledge we have to date concerning Afri can American students and standardized testing. The Use of Terms Certain terms used throughout the remai nder of this thesis are important to understand and define before proceeding. This study specifically focuses on African American studentsÂ’ perceptions and opinions, with African Americans defined as citizens with African ancestry born in the United States. The terms African American and Black are used purposefully throughout this study. The term Â“Black Â” is used to include all people of African ancestry and cat egorized as Â“Black,Â” particul arly in official education statistics, regardless of nati onal origin. The term Â“BlackÂ” is used extensively in the chapter describing the histor y of Hillsborough County schools as segregation separated residents by skin color and (perceived) African origin rather than national origin. When discussing the participants of this particular study, the term Â“African AmericanÂ” is used, as participants all identified as Americans with Afri can ancestry, though they sometimes used Black and African American interchangeably when speaking. Throughout the thesis I use several terms to refer to the School District of Hillsborough County. The Â“School District of Hillsborough CountyÂ” and Â“Hillsborough County School DistrictÂ” are th e official names provided by the district in question.
8 However, the terms Â“Hillsborough County schoo ls,Â” the Â“Hillsborough school district,Â” Â“the school district,Â” and Â“the districtÂ” are all used to denote the School District of Hillsborough County. Furthermore, the court case ordering desegregation ( Manning vs. the School District of Hillsborough County ) was filed in 1958, when the school districtÂ’s official name was Â“the Board of Public Instruction of Hillsborough County.Â” This name, however, is only used for citation purposes in this manuscript. Other terms relate to theoreti cal issues. The term Â“school cultureÂ” is used to refer to attitudes and behaviors exhibited by mu ltiple actors (e.g. students, teachers, and administrators) within a school attitudes and behaviors th at are influenced by school policies and practices. The term Â“school climateÂ” is similar to Â“school culture,Â” but refers more specifically to the mood or atmosphere within a school as students perceive it. School climate is also influenced by school policies and practices. Finally, Â“school structureÂ” refers to the ways courses are or ganized within a school and the ways students are organized based on course taking. Student participants in this study attended schools with two different types of school structures One type of struct ure characterized the medical/technical school, where all students participated in a program focused on a specific medical or technical track and their course taking depended in the specific track. The other type of school structure separated st udents into either a Â“traditionalÂ” track Â– general course taking Â– or a Â“magnetÂ” track Â– Advanced Placement/HonorÂ’s courses and a focus on the specific magnet program offered (e ither arts or scien ce/engineering). These specific school structures will be further defined later.
9 Thesis Organization This thesis is organized into six chapters. Chapter One provides a brief introduction to the research conducted as a pa rt of this thesis pr oject. This chapter includes an overview of the research problems and purpose, the significance of this thesis, the usage of terms, and an outline of the chapters ahead. Chapter Two describes the research setting in detail, including a brief history of Hillsborough County schools, a description of the school choice options cu rrently available to Hillsborough County high school students, and the community organizatio n with which the researcher worked to recruit participants in the research. Chapte r Three provides a litera ture review of the pertinent issues addressed by this research. These issu es include anthropology and education, African American students and th e academic achievement, the movement for standardization in American public schools, and community organizations and African American student achievement. Chapter F our outlines the re search design and operationalization, including the specific res earch questions, definitions of the specific domains of interest the research addresses, data collection procedur es, and data analysis procedures. Chapters Five and Six relate directly to the results of this research. Chapter Five describes the results in detail, including the important themes generated from the qualitative data and the results of quantit ative analyses. Chapter Six summarizes the results of the study and offers recommendations for future studies of African American students, standardized testing, and graduation. This final chapter al so includes studentsÂ’ recommendations for improving FCAT testi ng and researcher recommendations to organizations like the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope.
10 CHAPTER TWO Research Setting The School District of Hillsborough County, FL Tampa, located within the limits of H illsborough County, Florida, has a history of race relations that is unique in some ways a nd typical in many others when compared to other major cities throughout the nation, particularly in the Sout h. It is fair to characterize similarly the development, segregation, a nd desegregation of public education in Hillsborough County. With a substantial and growing Black population since its incorporation, the city of Tampa and the surrounding unincorporated Hillsborough County has endured some of the same historic ally persistent racial ized challenges to social and educational justice as has been expe rienced across the South. It is not so much the school districtÂ’s re sponses to these vari ous challenges that earns Hillsborough County a designation as Â“uniqueÂ” in th e long American fight for e quity in education, but the unique convergence of time and place that co mposes a compelling context within which that fight still rages today. This brief history outlin es the development of a racesegregated public school system in H illsborough County, the historically Black high schools that served as community institutions for African Americans, and the struggle for and consequences of desegregation.
11 A Brief History of African Americ an Education in Hillsborough County Located in the central west coastal region of Florida, Tampa is a city that grew from a small town to a relatively populous Southern port city dur ing the decade of the 1880s. As school districts encompass entire c ounties in the Florida educational system, the School District of Hillsborough County has always included schools in the inner-city of Tampa as well as in the less densely populated, relatively less ethnically diverse surrounding areas. The nesting of this urban center within a larger county-wide school system is the first unique char acteristic of Hillsb orough schools that has shaped historical and contemporary mechanisms through which th e state delivers public education to its diverse citizenry. While many school districts in the southeastern United States are also contiguous with county boundaries (Orfield and Lee 2005: 4), this situation is not widely found in other areas of the country. As will be explored, the inclusion of urban, suburban, and rural settings w ithin one school district offere d opportunities for providing equal access to education that have alternat ely been capitalized upon and overlooked. In step with the short-live d, progressive, justice-seeki ng political wave that was Reconstruction, the Florida Constitution Â“auth orized the establishment of a uniform public education systemÂ” in 1868, though a school serving Black students is reported to have been constructed in Tampa as early as 1867 (Shircliffe 2000: 474). Shircliffe tells us that most communities in the South, includi ng Florida, commonly segregated schools by race even in the absence of public laws requi ring them to do so (2000: 474). TampaÂ’s Black residents opened a school for Black students in 1870, fifteen years before the legislature would follow local customs and segregate schools legally (Shircliffe 2000:
12 474). ReconstructionÂ’s heady promise of Black political representation and universal education was beginning to fade almo st as quickly as it had appeared. Beginning in 1885, statewide laws were en acted that ensured the inferiority of educational facilities and inst ruction for Black residents of the state (Shircliffe 2000: 473475). These Jim Crow laws explicitly mandate d educational inequity between White and Black children, to the extent that not even the textbooks were spared the iron hand of segregation. Shircliffe (2000: 474) tells us that, under a 1903 amendment to a free textbook provision in state law, the Florida legislature declared it illegal for a White student to use a textbook formerly used by a Black student. All aspects of schooling Â– from the establishment of separate tax base s to distinct teacher pay scales based upon race and gender Â– sustained state interven tions that limited Black studentsÂ’ access to educational opportunities compared to those enjoyed by White students (Shircliffe 2000: 473-475). Nevertheless, Southern Black commun ities in Tampa and elsewhere continued to nurture educational institutions in the f ace of this blatant educational injustice, primarily through grassroots efforts and em bedded within such community-based institutions as churches and civic societies. It is through community-based organi zing and advocacy that Black residents established TampaÂ’s first high school traini ng courses for Black yout h in 1914 (Shircliffe 2000: 475). Through at least the year 1926, Black students in Tampa could only receive free high school training at overcrowded sc hool sites sharing facu lty, facilities, and equipment with elementary-aged students, a trend that began improving from the opening (in 1926) to the official a ccreditation (in 1935) of Booker T. Washington Senior High School. In 1935 Howard W. Blake became the pr incipal of Â“the first Â‘realÂ’ high school
13 for African Americans in the countyÂ” (S hircliffe 2000: 476), a designation the school earned by offering regular academic and vocational courses for high school credit. Washington was located in west Tampa and serv ed as a junior-senio r, vocational-focused high school. Middleton Senior High School opened in east Tampa in 1934, before construction was completed in 1935, as a co llege preparatory hi gh school (Shircliffe 2000: 476). Middleton would be destroyed by fire in 1938 and 1940, subsequently housed in a school building formerly se rving White students, and rebuilt in 1943 (Shircliffe 2000: 476). For nearly the next th irty years Middleton w ould stand as both a neighborhood institution and an important college preparatory school for Hillsborough CountyÂ’s Black population. Despite the Black communityÂ’s continued fi ght for better funding to facilitate better schooling experiences for Black student s, improvement in school facilities and general funding came slowly over several decades and always lagged behind that allocated to White schools. Legal segregat ion in Hillsborough County schools persisted through 1954 and beyond, despite the ou tlawing of segregated schooling by Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). R. W. Puryear, writing in 1955, contends that the Florida public, Â“is well conditioned to the fact that de segregation is inevitable,Â” though still uneasy as to the pr ospects of actual implementati on of desegregation (p. 219). In actuality, no comprehensive plans fo r complete school desegregation were implemented in Hillsborough County until 1971. The school district did, however, offer to build Howard W. Blake High School, wh ich was completed in 1956 (Shircliffe 2000: 479). Some Black residents saw and still see the building of Blake as an effort on the part
14 of the school board to placate Black demands for equal education while maintaining a system of segregation (Shircliffe 2000: 480). Blake was built in west Tampa as a repl acement of the severely under-resourced Don Thompson High School, a general/vocat ional high school for Black youth and adults. Blake would also offer general and voc ational courses, as well as serve as west TampaÂ’s Black neighborhood school and ri val to Middleton. These two high schools quickly became educational institutions and rocks in the African American community in part through the school distri ctÂ’s efforts to maintain an unjustly segregated system. However, the districtÂ’s apparent plan to placate Black residentsÂ’ demands for equal education by building a new high school for Bl ack students was not as successful as the school district had originally hoped. Two y ears after Blake was built, Andrew Manning of Tampa filed a lawsuit against Hill sborough County schools for operating a dual system. In 1962 Hillsborough County schools were ruled to be in violation of the Fourteen Amendment ensuring equal protect ion under the law and were ordered to desegregate ( Manning 2001: 1). The long process of desegregation th at resulted from this ruling was characteristically slow, mirrori ng the pace of change resulting from desegregation orders of the time in other parts of the nation. Ho wever, Tampa did not experience the violent White protests or the closing of entire school districts that accompanied other desegregation efforts, particularly those in the South. Rather, the sc hool district continued its non-confrontational maintena nce of the status quo until the Swann vs. the School District of Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971) Supreme Court decision offered specific guidelines as to the mechanisms by which sc hools were to be desegregated. In 1971, at
15 the behest of the plaintiffs in the Manning case, the school district was ordered to offer a comprehensive desegregation plan that woul d fundamentally restructure schooling in the county. The primary goal of the 1971 dese gregation order was to remedy racial imbalances in schools serving 50 percent or higher Black student populations. The court further defined ideal race ratios for each of the three school levels (ideal White/Black ratios were defined as such : 79% / 21% for elementary schools, 80% / 20% for middle schools, and 86% / 14% for high schools). The 1971 desegregation plan included a system of school clustering, single-grade centers and school closings, which resulted in a five-tier school system. Under this arrangement, both Blake and Middleton were clustered with one to three White middle schools. Th e formerly Black schools would serve as a seventh-grade center and the formerly White school(s) would serve gr ades eight and nine ( Manning 2001: 3). Former high school students at Blake and Middleton would be dispersed amongst the remaining, fo rmerly all-White high schools. Desegregation was truly a process, with ample, though non-violent, White community resistance partially fueling (or at least used to justify) conservative measures the school district took before 1971. White pa rent groups stated Â“publicly that white parents would move, use false addresses, or k eep their children out of schoolÂ” (Shircliffe 2000: 480) if their children were zoned into historically Black schools. Black community resistance came in the form of urging the courts and Hillsborough County Schools to change school attendance boundaries to achie ve desegregation and preserve important institutions in the Black community (Shi rcliffe 2000: 481). Many community members, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (w hich took over as plaintiffs in the Manning case after Swann (1971)), objected to the final desegr egation plan (Shircliffe 2000: 483).
16 Nevertheless, it was enacted, and Hillsborough C ounty quickly desegregated its schools, in large part due to it being a countywid e system large enough to desegregate across urban, rural, and suburban populations. The l ong fight for equity in education claimed Blake and Middleton as two casualties, wounde d, but not forgotten by those alumni who would continue to fight to re-open these two schools (see Shircliffe 2002 for an analysis of the effort to re-open Blake). For twenty years after 1971, the School District of Hillsborough County was largely successful at meeting race ratios originally proposed in the desegregation order. In this same period, presidents Nixon, Reag an, and Bush, Sr. supported legislation and judicial opinions that began to weaken th e power desegregation or ders, and eventually legislative and judicial oversight, had in compelling school districts to enact raceconscious equity strategies (Orfield and Lee 2005: 5). Th is wholesale judicial and legislative retreat from cour t-ordered desegregation intens ified during the 1980s, at the same time race-based discrepancies in severa l measures of achievement decreased rapidly and schools became more integrated. By the 1990s trends in desegregation, race-based achievement measures, and general educatio nal equity began to reverse, nationally (Orfield and Lee 2005). The Dowell decision in 1991 made it easi er for school districts to meet desegregation orders satisfactorily, and systems across the country began to return to neighborhood Â– and oftentimes segregated Â– schooling (Holladay 2005: 5). In that same year, Hillsborough County Schools submitted a plan to the courts for changing the structure of the school system by re-estab lishing middle schools. Though a multimember task force concluded that sixteen schools we re projected to have Black populations of 39% or more after restructuring, this plan became the new system under which the
17 district would Â“Â‘ maintain a desegregated school systemÂ’Â”(emphasis in original) ( Manning 2001: 5). By the beginning of the millenn ium, Hillsborough County counted 26 majority Black schools (Shircliffe 2000: 472). In 1996 the Hillsborough County School Bo ard sought a declaration of unitary status by the courts. The Dowell ( Board of Education of Oklahoma City vs. Dowell, 1991), Freeman ( Freeman vs. Pitts, 1992), and Missouri ( Missouri vs. Jenkins, 1995) decisions ushered in an era of school districts seeking unitary status, freeing them from court control. Hillsborough County was among these districts, and, in 1996, petitioned the courts to release them fr om a desegregation order that had persisted for twenty-five years. At that time 17 Hillsborough schools we re considered Â“racially identifiableÂ” ( Manning 2001: 6); at issue was whether or not demographic changes in the county since the 1971 desegregation order caused these school sÂ’ demographic profiles. The magistrate judge denied the school boardÂ’s request for unitary status, though she was convinced that demographic change was an important factor influencing these sc hoolsÂ’ racial makeup ( Manning 2001: 6). The magistrateÂ’s judgment was overturned in 2001, and thus the school district became unitary. The School District Toda y: Hillsborough Choice In the 2007-2008 school year, the School Di strict of Hillsborough County served 186,325 students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, 49,560 of them high school students attending twenty-five regular high school s (Hillsborough County Public Schools 2007: 2). The district serves a Black, non-Hispanic st udent population of 41,316, or approximately 22% of the total student popul ation (Florida Department of Education 2007, http://www.fldoe.org/eias/flmove/hillsbor. asp). As part of the stipulation for
18 maintaining a desegregated school system ag reed upon by plaintiffs and defendants in the original Manning case, Hillsborough Schools implemented Hillsborough Choice, a system of attendance area zoning and school choice options developed after the CourtÂ’s 1998 denial of unitary status. A sixteen memb er committee made up of district personnel, community members, and university faculty drafted this plan to increase the school choices available to Hillsborough County families and maintain desegregation (Hillsborough County School Distri ct 2002: 11). The reasoning be hind such a plan is that families will choose to send their children to schools, even those in TampaÂ’s inner-city neighborhoods, based on their specialized program offerings, thus voluntarily desegregating schools in nei ghborhoods that may not alrea dy be racially/ethnically diverse. The Supreme Court decision Green vs. School Board of New Kent County (1968) identified six factors for which to judge a school districtÂ’s compliance with its desegregation order. These so-called Green factors are student assignment, faculty/staff assignment, transportation, fac ilities, resource allocation, th e quality of education, and extracurricular activities. Since the 1968 Green decision, these six factors have been examined by courts to determine the exte nt to which a school district has been successfully desegregated, as segregation apparent in any one category may be used to deny a district the ruling of unitary status. Th ese six factors Â“serve[d ] as an organizerÂ” (Hillsborough County School District 2002: 13) for Hillsborough CountyÂ’s choice plan. The resulting plan is over six hundred pages long and outlines the ex act specifications the Hillsborough County school board planned to im plement to reach unitary status. The two Green factors explored here Â– student assi gnment and quality of education Â– are
19 instrumental institutional aspects influe ncing current African American studentsÂ’ experiences in Hillsborough County schools. The first goals the School District of Hillsborough County identified to reach desegregation through student assignment was to Â“Increase the number of magnet options including magnet schools, attractor programs, and AcademiesÂ” and provide a plan for controlled parent and student choice am ong these schools (Hillsborough County School District 2002: 13). Of the twenty-five regular public high schools in operation in Hillsborough County, nine specialized magnet pr ograms are offered among nine schools. All schools offer at least some Advanced Pl acement (AP) courses and at least one of several vocational/technical prog rams. The students involved in this study attended the technical/medical high school; the performing arts magnet school; a nd the engineering, math, science, and technology magnet school. These specialized programs were initiated prior to the districtÂ’s pursuit of unitary status, but intentionally expanded to promote voluntary desegregation. Each school in the county is zoned within one of seven attend ance boundaries that demarcate neighborhood schools for all homes w ithin the zone. With the exception of the technical/medical school, ma gnet and attractor programs are embedded within these neighborhood schools, and students wishing to enroll in these programs must apply and be accepted. The commonly utilized (though not the only) aspect of choice embedded in this system allows any student in the county to enroll in out-of-attendance-boundary schools. The Â“school choiceÂ” program allows a student to choose up to three out-ofattendance-area non-magnet schools that are not already at capacity. The student can enroll in out-of-attendance-area magnet or In ternational Baccalaur eate programs as long
20 as she or he qualifies for that program. St udents living within the attendance boundary of a school containing a magnet/attractor program are admitted to the school but not automatically admitted to the magnet/attractor program. The School District of Hillsborough Count y identified achievement tests as the first of many indicators of the relative quality of educati on among their schools. As a part of the final desegregation plan before achie ving unitary status, the district acknowledged the quality of education as Â“a marker agains t which all green Factors must be judgedÂ” (Hillsborough County School District 2002: 20) Interestingly, the school district explicitly links magnet/attractor programs to increases in achievement test scores, particularly for Â“disadvantagedÂ” students (Hillsborough County Sc hool District 2002: 20). One provision of the plan to increase achievement test scor es is to, Â“provide programs that result in incr eased numbers of under-repre sented and disadvantaged student populations in gifted, honors, adva nced placement courses, and International Baccalaureate programsÂ” (Hillsborough C ounty School District 2002: 20). Another provision is to, Â“Institute progr ams and initiatives to close any performance gaps between students who are advantaged and students who are identified as disadvantagedÂ” (Hillsborough County School District 2002: 20). My research stands directly at the intersection of these goals outlined by the School District of Hillsborough County because it examines student perceptions of th e school districtÂ’s implementation of these programs. Though magnet and attractor programs comprise the mechanism for offering school choice in Hillsborough C ounty that is most relevant to this study, the district offers other mechanisms of school choice as well. Such school c hoice options include
21 transfers from schools deemed Â“failing,Â” as provided under No Child Left Behind, and special out-of-attendance-ar ea assignments for which parents must petition, gain acceptance, and provide their childÂ’s transp ortation. Magnet and attractor programs are offered as a method of voluntary desegr egation. In addition to greater focus on achievement tests, the school di strict identified drop-out rate s and graduation rates as two other key indicators of the quality of education provided through its schools. The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope (TB AH) was established in 1996 as a 501c3 non-profit organization working in conjunction with, though i ndependent of, the School District of Hillsborough County. This organi zation implements a multi-faceted program for the families of students living in Tampa and attending Hillsborough County middle and high schools. Program par ticipants are referred to the TBAH by counselors or other designated faculty their respect ive schools, but they must de monstrate the willingness to participate in program activities and initia tives before being fully accepted into the program. As a part of the program students and parents engage in leadership training, mentoring, and special events sponsored and supported by various individual community volunteers and businesses. Many Â– though not al l Â– students and parents who participate in TBAH programs are African Americans w ith working class backgrounds. Ideally students enter the program as sixth-graders and continue through hi gh school graduation, though students in any grade between sixt h and twelfth are admitted yearly. The AcademyÂ’s funding comes from a combination of school district grants, business grants and donations, private individual and group donations, and annual fundraising events.
22 The founder and president of the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope is a former professional football player for the Tamp a Bay Buccaneers. His personal background plays a key role in his establishment and continued operation of the Academy. Born in rural Alabama as one of twenty children, th e founder was designated as having learning disabilities as a young child (fie ld notes 9/29/2007). His athle tic abilities facilitated his promotion through school, but he acknowledges that schools and teachers often had low expectations of his academic abilities due to hi s labeling as learning disabled (field notes 9/29/2007). Spending just a shor t period of time with the fo under and current program officer reveals their commitment to improving education for underserved families in the Tampa Bay area. The Academy operates out of a small office in Tampa, just down the street from a public housing project that was demolished du ring the course of this research study. Employing a small staff of between five and six people, the Academy operates a Leadership Through Education program thr ough which students develop personal goals in academics, school behavior, leadership, and self-esteem. Students progress through stages of the program under the guidance of leadership coaches and mentors, volunteers and employees who meet with students and pa rents to discuss their personal academic and social trajectories. Relative student pa rticipation is measured by the hours students spend meeting with leadership coaches, part icipating in events, or volunteering in the Academy office. Many students also particip ate in the Youth Lead ership Council (YLC) to organize fundraising and recreational even ts for students in the program. Many of these same students have parents who are a part of the Parent Leadership Advocacy Network (PLAN), a parent group that also helps to organize events and advocate for
23 student and parent issues. Both of these committees are mechanisms through which TBAH members can participate more fully in the program, particular ly in planning and implementing major events. In any given year the TBAH organizes betw een three and six major events for its members, as well as a number of smaller even ts that both raise funds for the program and offer fun activities provided by program sponsors. For example, the TBAH offers a college tour whereby students and parents visit various Flor ida colleges and universities over the course of one week in the summe r. The AcademyÂ’s daily operations include meetings between leadership coaches (pri marily the founder and program officer) and members at the schools they attend. Daily ope rations also include meeting with students and parents seeking assistance in various school and family matters, planning and coordinating upcoming meetings and events, an d organizing fund-raising operations. The next chapter offers a review of lite rature pertinent to the questions guiding this research.
24 CHAPTER THREE Review of Literature This chapter offers a review of anthr opological and educational literature that informs the research questions guiding this study. This thesis is situated at the conjunction of two broad topics within th e anthropology of education: the academic achievement of African American students and the standardized tes ting movement in the United States. The majority of literature offered in this chapter was published in the last fifteen years, as movement toward more st ringent standardization in education gained greater salience across the st ates throughout the 1990s, and the No Child Left Behind Act directed federal funding to districts based on standardized test scores beginning in 2002. The increased importance of standardized testing to overall educational attainment has fostered a public educational environment in which the impact of standardized testing must be taken into consideration when addres sing and/or researching issues of academic achievement. When addressing African American studentsÂ’ achievement in particular, the majority of research conducted in the last fifteen years is gear ed toward explaining reasons for educational disparities between White and African American student groups, while a smaller portion of research concer ns high achieving African American students and/or the teachers and schools who serve them. This chapter will explore recent
25 literature that analyzes th e mechanisms through which African American students are educated. I will then connect that literature to the research conducted for this study. In this chapter I will firs t provide an overview of the major theoretical orientation that defines the anthropology of education as a specialized sub-field w ithin cultural anthropology. I will then discuss three major analytical standpoints from which education researchers Â– particularly an thropologists of education Â– investigate African American student achievement and standard ized testing. The subsequent se ctions of this chapter are organized based on the research questions developed as a part of this study, and, within those sections, I will discuss literature s upporting each of the three major analytical standpoints anthropologists and other educational researcher s take toward understanding these two main topics. The last section situ ates the development and analysis of this thesis within the theoretical orientations discussed. The Anthropology of Education The anthropology of education is a subfield within an thropology with an interdisciplinary focus. The anthropology of education can trace its disciplinary roots to the early work of such American anthropol ogists as Margaret Mead and Franz Boas (Gearing and Timball 1973: 96; McDermott and Varenne 2006: 5), though its articulation as a distinct subfield came largely through the efforts of George and Louise Spindler (McDermott and Varenne 2006: 5; Spindler 2000: xxiii ). In 1954 George Spindler convened a conference at Stanford Univers ity where anthropologi sts, other social scientists, and educators came together to di scuss the role anthropology had to play in understanding the educational process across cultures. The subsequent years saw a
26 dramatic increase in the number of works dedicated to anthropol ogical and ethnographic research in education. The foundational theories upon which the an thropology of educa tion rests are the Â“understanding of school and society as socio-cultural phenomenaÂ” (Hoebel 1955: 301) and the contention that education occurs both inside and outside formal institutional settings. Schooling and education are not one and the same, as Â“schoolingÂ” entails formal institutional structures, while Â“educationÂ” is a much broader and culturally distinctive process of acquiring knowledge and skills (Levinson and Holland 1996: 2). For most participants in this current study, a porti on of their education came through involvement with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, which stands outside the in stitutional schooling structure and provides perspectives that help students navigate that structure. Anthropologists of educati on have long investigated th e diversity of educational practices across cultures and so cieties. In the American c ontext, much of our early understanding of different forms of education and schooling come through anthropologists studying orig inal North American populati ons (for example, Mead 1943/1963). As anthropologists formally esta blished the subfield through the 1950s and 1960s, they increasingly began to critically examine proce sses of education and schooling for other marginalized populations in th e United States (Yon 2003: 413-415). African Americans were among those marginalized populations. Anthropologists of education have fo cused on a wide variety of questions regarding the ways students are defined as successes or failures and reasons for disparities in educational attainment and academic achievement between students from socially marginalized communities (e.g. Af rican American, indigenous, and working-
27 class communities) and students from mainst ream communities (i.e. White, middleand upper-class communities). Of partic ular interest for this rese arch are questions directed toward understanding the experi ences African American studen ts have in urban schools and the social factors that influence thes e experiences. The next section defines and describes three theoretical orientations by which anthr opological and educational research concerning African American student achievement and standardized testing will be categorized for this literature review. Analytical Perspectives Used to Stu dy African American Student Achievement and Standardized Testing McDermott and Varenne (2006) define th ree stages of analysis from which researchers investigate educational problems: an alysis of the individu al, analysis of the social context, and analysis of the cultural context. When educational researchers investigate educational problems with the indi vidual as the unit of analysis, it defines characteristics of the individual as the sour ce of the problem being investigated. When educational researchers investigate educationa l problems with the social context as the unit of analysis, it defines characteristics of a school or other edu cational institution as the source of the problem being investigat ed. When education researchers investigate educational problems with th e cultural context as the unit of analysis, it defines characteristics of the larger socio-political environment that creates and perpetuates the definition of the problem itself, as well as determines which individuals and groups are associated with the problem in question. Mc Dermott and Varenne go on to define cultural analysts as those who Â“focus, first, on the co llective constructions all actors must deal with Â– whether they personally accept, unde rstand, or even know much about these
28 constructions Â– and, second, on what others will do, in the future, with what the original actors didÂ” (2006: 10). McDermott and Varenne argue that educa tional research, particularly research done by anthropologists, should move toward the cultural analytical stag e if it is to truly contribute to solving problems in educati on. Though I draw upon th eir categorization of the three levels of analysis in educational res earch, the research that guides this study is not necessarily limited to educational pr oblems. To focus attention narrowly only on educational problems would be to reify th e idea that the achie vement of African American students is marked solely by failure on standardized tests, an idea McDermott and Varenne (2006) criticize sharply. Rather, the three categories of educational research these anthropologists offer serve as a conceptu al framework for the lit erature I present in this chapter. Following McDermott and VarenneÂ’s cat egorization, I separate educational research concerning African American student achievement and standardized testing into three realms of analysis: analys is of the attributes of a group, analysis of the structure of schooling, and analysis of the cultural environment. While these three categories mirror those provided by McDermott and Varenne, the categorization itself differs because these three perspectives are not hierarchically organized. Researchers starting from each of these perspectives have made substantial c ontributions to our unde rstanding of African American student achievement and standardized testing. Furthermore, while these perspectives are starting points from which Af rican American student achievement and/or standardized testing are inve stigated, interpretations resu lting from research findings often incorporate one or more of the other analytical elements. Essentially, these three
29 categories are realms within wh ich researchers inve stigate culture in regards to schooling. I accept the definition of culture as the shared values, behaviors, attributes, and materials, produced and reproduced from generation to generation, through which groups of people consciously and unconsciously organize and ma ke meaning of their respective worlds (Levinson and Holland 1996: 13). Given this de finition, understanding culture in regards to schooling can mean understanding the characteristics of a studyÂ’s participants; understanding the policies and practices of a school or schoo l district; and/or understanding the ways groups of students co me to be defined, categorized, and judged based on larger social forces that structur e the institution of schooling in general. The remainder of this chapter discusses literature relevant to the specific research questions that guide this study. African American Students, Sta ndardized Testing, and Graduation The first two research questions deve loped as the part of this study are: 1.) How do African American Hillsbor ough County public school students and parents frame their experiences with and opinions of the Tenth-Grade FCAT? and 2.) How do African American Hillsborough County students and parents frame their experiences w ith and opinions of high school graduation? These questions are combined in this s ection because they ar e interrelated; in Florida, a passing grade on the Tenth-Grade FCAT (or an equivalent score on specified alternative tests) is require d for earning a standard or honorÂ’s diploma. Researchers, policy makers, educators, and the genera l public most commonly measure academic achievement outcomes by scores on standardi zed tests and/or gr aduation rates, but
30 achievement is also measured by such outco mes as courses taken, grade point average, and post-secondary/career choices. The literat ure reviewed in th is section includes investigations of academic achievement for African American students. Many studies concerning African American students, standardized testing, and graduation are devoted to examining and e xplaining the reasons for disparities in achievement between White and Black students (Lynn 2006: 107). Theories for why African American students, as a group, achieve at lower leve ls academically than other student groups (particularly White and Asia n students) implicate a range of actors, including the students themselves, parents, (urban) communities, teachers, and schools as a whole (Lynn 2006: 107). However, some res earchers have also understood that it is important to examine the heterogeneity of Af rican American perceptions of education as an important element rebutting literature that only associates Afri can American students with academic underachievement (Carter 2006 ; Gayles 2005; Morris 1999). Part of the literature on education in African American communities also includes the ways families respond to such systemic issues as bu sing, desegregation, neighborhood schools, and magnet school availability (Phillips 1998; Ba ber 1999), and the ways institutional racism reproduces differences in academic achie vement among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups (Lynn 2006; Delgado and Stefancic 2000). Explanations of disparities in achieve ment and explanations for high African American achievement that focus on individual students, families, and communities can be categorized as analyses of the attributes of a group. I begin this discussion of African American students and academic achievement with the work of John Ogbu, one of the most influential anthropologi sts studying African American academic outcomes in the
31 last three decades. Though many scholars ha ve disputed OgbuÂ’s findings (Gibson 1997: Valenzuela 1999), his influence remains solid among many educational scholars and mirrors public opinion of the reasons for Af rican AmericansÂ’ academic failure (Burris and Welner 2005: 594). According to OgbuÂ’ s theory of Â“oppositional cultureÂ” (1974, 1994, 2003), African American students, as invo luntary minorities, do not view school as a sufficient method of advancing socially and economically (1994: 4). As a result of this perception of schooling, African Americans perform below th eir potential academically because they believe that educational inst itutions are fundamentally opposed to their interests (Ogbu 1974, 1994, 2003). Ogbu juxtaposes involuntary minorities (e.g. African Americans, Chicano Americans, American Indians) with voluntary minorities (e.g. Latino, African, Caribbean, and Asian immigr ants), noting that the former view schooling as a method of cultural dismembe rment and an empty promise for social advancement, while the latter have no such associations (1994). Of particular importance is OgbuÂ’s (2003) Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement which analyzes African American student and community perceptions of and practices surrounding schooling in a middle to high income community. Interestingly, OgbuÂ’s early work (1974) concludes that American society needed to do more to ensure that Af rican Americans are able to reap the social benefits schooling promises. In comparing White and Black students from relatively equal socio-economic backgrounds, his most recent work argues that differential academic outcomes Â“are primarily due to differences in the community forces of minoritiesÂ” (Ogbu 2003: 46, emphasis added), or the differences in the non-school-based
32 influences (e.g. parental influences, peer influences) that guid e studentsÂ’ in-school performance. While Ogbu approaches the connection between cultural idea s of schooling and broader social structures et hnographically, scholars from othe r disciplines have come to similar conclusions based on statistical modeli ng from survey data. Carpenter II, et al. (2006) challenge the assumption that only one achievement gap exists, and that it is between White and Black students, by regres sing mathematics achievement data against several school and family variables for Bl ack, White, and Latino/a students. The authors utilize National Educationa l Longitudinal Study of 1988 data to examine the factors predicting within-group and be tween-group variation in mathematics achievement. Part of their conclusion indicates that Â“Increases in SES [socio-economic status], time spent on homework, and parental i nvolvement result in higher ma th achievementÂ” (Carpenter II, et al. 2006: 120) for all th ree groups. None of the regres sion models the researchers generated included school-based variables as statistically significant for math achievement (Carpenter II, et al. 2006: 122). Rather, Â“the most significant predictors appear to be rooted in the home, includi ng language, parental involvement, SES, and even the homework control variableÂ” (Carpenter II, et al. 2006: 122). It is important to note that Carpenter II, et al. assert that race, alone, is not a significant factor in determining math achievement (2006: 122) However, their regression models consistently indicate a signifi cant statistical difference in achievement between White and African American students and between Latino/ a and African American students, but not between White and Latino/a st udents (Carpenter II, et al. 2006: 117-123). In essence,
33 then, the authors conclude that African Amer ican studentsÂ’ households are less conducive to promoting high academic achievement th an are White and Latino/a households. In a recent study published in Urban Education, Flowers and Flowers (2008) examine African American high school stude ntsÂ’ reading achieveme nt through ordinary least squares regression models using data from the Edu cational Longitu dinal Study of 2002. This study uses similar data and data analys is procedures as Carpenter II, et al., but come to slightly different conclusions and im plications for educati on policy. The authors regressed a number of academic, familial, and economic variables on student achievement as measured by a standardized te st, finding that parent al expectations of their childÂ’s educational future, the number of hours doing homework, and family income were statistically significant factors infl uencing reading achievement (Flowers and Flowers 2008: 162). The results of this study reveal similar variables influencing student achievement in reading as are revealed by Carp enter II, et al.Â’s results from mathematics data, but Flowers and Flowers make broader recommendations for improved practice that permeate the individual, home, and school leve ls. They suggest that administrators and teachers can improve teaching practices and attitudes to ensure that urban African American students have equal access to educa tional opportunities as all students (Flowers and Flowers 2008: 164). They also encourage parents Â– particularly African American parents Â– to monitor time spent on home work and television viewing and Â“model appropriate behaviors by reading with their children and engaging in learning opportunitiesÂ” (Flowers and Flowers 2008: 164) Interestingly, the authors consider developing culturally relevant pedagogical practices as a mechanism for fostering
34 positive African American student relationships to the educational system, thus improving achievement (Flowers and Flowers 2008: 164-166). High achieving African American student s and schools are an important and under-researched topic that can shed valuable light upon th e entirety of the African American educative experience (Wiggan 2007: 311). Ethnographic portraits of such students and schools offer insight into th e meanings students make of academic achievement and the processes by which schools serving predominantly African American populations defy the norm of Afri can American underachievement. Jonathan Gayles (2005) follows three African American male students through th e last semester of their senior year in Â“one of the most violent and lowestachieving high schoolsÂ” (250) in their community. Gayles analyzes these stude ntsÂ’ orientation towa rd high achievement, which included graduating with honorÂ’s diplom as, Â“as a form of re sistanceÂ” (2005: 251) to characterizations of African Americans Â– particularly males Â– as in opposition to the schooling process. Gayles concludes that th ese students did not think of high academic achievement as an indicator of who they intr insically were, or even as an indicator of their intelligence ( 2005: 250, 254-259). By extension, the n, students who did not achieve as well were not seen as Â“less thanÂ” (G ayles 2005: 255). Furthermore, these students Â“stated that the meaning of academic achie vement was practicalÂ” (Gayles 2005: 256), a means of allowing them to move beyond th eir current workingclass environment. Despite social scientists,Â’ educators, Â’ and the general publicÂ’s overwhelmingly negative perspectives of the c ontexts within which urban Af rican American students live and learn, African Americans themselves of ten take a much more nuanced position regarding the history and contemporary realit y of their schools a nd communities (Gayles
35 2005; Morris 1999). MorrisÂ’ (1999) study of the predominantly Black Fairmont Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri highlights the mechanisms through which the school strengthened parental and community linkages in the face of declining economic circumstances for the neighborhood and its residents. Morris ch aracterizes this school as Â“a stabilizing force for a low-income Af rican American communityÂ” (1999: 601), a characterization that challe nges the accepted perception of predominantly African American schools as deficient in their abil ity to foster strong school-community bonds. Morris (1999) identifie s the stability of f aculty over time; the schoolÂ’s willingness to accommodate parent needs concerning school involvement; the integration of parents as equal partners in the educa tive process; the dedication to community building exhibited by the principal; and the pervasive exp ectation of success fostered by faculty, administration, and parents alike as defini ng characteristics that have entrenched Fairmont as an integral aspect of the neighborhood it serves. T hough this study focuses on the structure of schooling for one instituti on, it is categorized as an analysis of the attributes of a small group because the au thor analyzes strong school-community bonds as a unique characteristic this pa rticular group of people nurtured. Explanations of disparities in achieve ment that focus on inequitable conditions within and between schools Â– particularly t hose initiated or exacerbated by educational policies Â– can be categorized as analyses of the structure of schooling. By the time Congress passed The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, an accountability movement had been linking school quality, teacher perfor mance, and student achievement to state standardized tests, in varyi ng degrees, for almost twenty years (McNeil 2000: 4). The central stated purpose for No Child Left Behi nd legislation is Â“To close the achievement
36 gap with accountability, flex ibility, and choiceÂ” (107th Congress 2002: 1425). The law further defines this Â“achievement gapÂ” as existing Â“between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peersÂ” (107th Congress 2002: 1440) Â– esse ntially between students marginalized along racial/ethnic, socio-ec onomic, language, and (dis)ability lines and White middleand upper-middle-class students. Th e ultimate goal of this policy is for all students to perform at proficie nt levels Â– as defined by stat e academic standards Â– by the year 2014. Since 2002, an overwhelming factor shaping schooling for African American students is the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which firmly entrenched standardized tests as the baro meter measuring academic success and failure. With No Child Left BehindÂ’s definiti on of accountability explicitly focusing on disaggregating achievement outcomes by race/e thnicity, socio-economic status, gender, English language proficiency, and disabi lity indicators, the development and implementation of this policy is of particul ar concern to anthropologists of education. From studies of one teacher (e.g. Valli & Cham bliss, 2007), to studies of one school site (e.g. Valenzuela, 1999), to multiple site studies (e.g. Hubbard & Datnow, 2005), anthropologists of education have begun to produce descriptive analyses of the multilayered educational processe s surrounding the implementatio n of No Child Left Behind and other tangential stat e policies. The March 2007 special edition of Anthropology and Education Quarterly focuses specifically on qualitati ve research concerning No Child Left Behind. The authors in this special issue ask questions directly related to the impact of high-stakes testing on Af rican American, Latino, and low-income students. Kris Sloan (2007) reviews ethnographies that document th e effects of high-stakes testing on teacher outcomes and perceptions, student outcomes, and curriculum and pedagogy. Sloan
37 concludes that some ethnographic studies have documented high-stakes testing as having a positive effect by motivating teachers to su cceed (2007: 25). However, the majority of ethnographic studies of high-stakes testing report that these test s negatively impact student graduation rates, teacher autonomy, t eacher expectations for students to succeed, and overall student achievement (Sloan 2007). For African American students already marginalized through historical racism and contemporary disinvestment in urban public education, standardized testing Â“conceals from view the inequities in opportunities to learnÂ” (Sloan 2007: 37) and restructures the inequalities long embedded in the American education system (McNeil 2000). Linda Valli and Marilyn Chambliss ( 2007) examine two elementary reading classrooms taught by the same teacher to understand Â“the power of a test-taking environmentÂ” (70) in influencing teacher pr actices and classroom culture. One classroom was for regularly tracked students, while the ot her classroom served as an intervention for low-achieving students. Though the teacher in question created her own lesson plans for both classes, the differences in teaching qua lity, pedagogical content, and student/teacher engagement were stark. Regular track students were exposed to literature, discussion, and classroom activities that were both stimulati ng and appropriate for the studentsÂ’ reading level (Valli and Chambliss 2007: 70). In th e intervention class, on the other hand, the teacher Â“constructed her role narrowly, as a test coach atte mpting to train students to perform well on the state assessment by staying close to a test-preparation scriptÂ” (Valli and Chambliss 2007: 71). Students were exposed to literature and activities that were not relevant to their everyday lives, but to testing structures that called for short texts and decontextualized abstraction (Valli and Chambliss 2007: 70-71). These authors offer a
38 detailed picture of a test-driven classroom environment that effectively dismantles high quality pedagogical content and teaching stra tegies in favor of exercises narrowly devoted to test preparation. Though this study focused on one teacher and her classroom, this study is categorized as an analysis of the structure of schooling because policies embedded in the national education system st ructured the ways she approached content and pedagogy. While the previous study focused on one teacher, the implications reach far beyond isolated incidences. The authorsÂ’ singl e-teacher study contextualizes observations they made across classrooms participating in their larger study (Valli and Chambliss 2007: 72). In other words, teachers of intervention classes across several school sites showed similar Â“test-centered culture[s]Â” (Valli and Chambliss 2007: 73). Furthermore, McNeil (2000) documents similar Â“drill and killÂ” curricula in a predominantly African American high school in Houston, contrasting their practices with the highest performing schools in the same district. The focus on basic, low-level sk ill acquisition, rote memorization, and test-taking strategies have the opposite effect of what they are meant to achieve, actually lowering student performance on standard ized tests and denying them opportunities for more complex, high level curricul a (McNeil 2000). Schiller and Muller (2000) take a differe nt approach to understanding the impact of standardized testing on schools and student s, particularly when those tests are laden with consequences affecting future academ ic outcomes. Schiller and MullerÂ’s (2000) statistical analyses of the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988-92 and the National Longitudinal Study of Schools indicat e that linking punitive consequences for individual students to test sc ores raises teacher expectati ons and graduation rates, while
39 basing punitive consequences for schools on thos e tests Â– as in the No Child Left Behind model Â– has the opposite effect on teacher expectations and graduation rates. BaberÂ’s study (1999) documents commun ity responses to desegregation and busing, an action that qualitativ ely changed the nature of schooling for African American students (and the community) in Hills borough County, FL. Since busing to meet desegregation directives had forced many African American students to attend schools far from their home neighborhoods (Baber 1999), grassroots organizing within the East Tampa community became essential for parents in their need to be involved in their childrenÂ’s education. Baber exam ines how Â“a viable system of parent involvement at the local level has developed in East Tampa, Flor idaÂ” (1999: 8) in the face of busing. Similar to what Phillips (1999) documents in Pi nellas County around the same time, African American students bused outside of East Ta mpa suffered the consequences of teachersÂ’ low expectations and the school districtÂ’s problem-oriented approach to African American parental involvement (1999: 167170). Though desegregation was supposed to provide African Americans with better educational opportunities, the effects of desegregation show up in low teacher expect ations and difficulty for parents to work closely with schools, which, in turn, translat e to lower academic performance and higher rates of disciplinary actions for Black students (Baber 1999). Linda Darling-Hammond (2004) takes a m acro-level approach to analyzing the impact of educational policy on educational outcomes for students of color. The author criticizes educational scholar ship that discounts the influe nce of resources and school structure on academic achievement and foregrounds such student-level variables as time spent on homework, attachment to school, and even socio-economic status (Darling-
40 Hammond 2004). Such research and analysis hi nges on the assumption that education has been equalized (Darling-Hammond 2004: 214) Darling-Hammond reviews educational literature and official statistical analyses c onducted for the U.S. Department of Education, departments of education in various states and class-action lawsuits to argue that resource inequality impacts various structur al aspects of schoo ling and is the most influential variable when predicting di fferential academic outcomes (2004). Funding disparities among and within districts se rving student populations differentiated by race/ethnicity and socio-economic status direc tly affects teacher qual ity, curricula quality, and access to fundamental educational resource s (e.g. textbooks), which, in turn, directly affects student performance on standardiz ed tests (Darling-Hammond 2004: 217-227). The author calls for widespread policies that equalize educational reso urces at all levels, develop equitable standards re form movements, infuse high quality curricula in all schools, and improve teacher quality (Darling-Hammond 2004: 236-241). Explanations of disparities in achieveme nt that describe schools as institutions that reproduce larger social inequalities can be categorized as analyses of the cultural environment that allows for such inequalities in the United States. In addition to studies of educational reform and standardized te sting and their implications for African American students discussed previously, st udies that explore the impact of policy initiatives on African American students begin with the premise that schooling is structured in such a way that institutions reproduce inequalities already woven into AmericaÂ’s social and cultural fabric. Criti cal Race Theory in education (Delgado and Stefancic 2000; Lynn 2006; Lynn and Parker 200 6) examines education and schooling in
41 terms of the ways race has been defined a nd mobilized as a mechanism of oppression both historically and contemporane ously. As Lynn (2006) contends, Â“A critical race analysis of Black education starts from the notion the education, as we know it, was never intended to have liberatory consequences for African Americans. In other words . the intent of schools and schooling practices in white supremacist contexts has always been to serve and further support the unequal system of privileges conferred upon whites.Â” (116) Critical Race Theory first emerged in legal scholarship rega rding the role of judicial systems in recreating race-based inequaliti es within social institutions (Lynn and Parker 2006: 259), and permeated educational scholarship as educational researchers began to explicitly and critically examine the role of schools in perpetuating White, middle-class supremacy. Critical Race Theory has been used to analyze educational policy, pedagogy, and the lives and experiences of stude nts of color in both their ideological and material effects (Lynn and Parker 2006). McDermott and Varenn eÂ’s contention that Â“school success and failure have become crucial to the articul ation and recreation of racial borders and inequalitiesÂ” (2006: 22) high lights the relevance of CR T to the anthropology of education. When considering the impact of su ch specific policy init iatives as No Child Left Behind, a critical race analysis calls fo r researchers to Â“express skepticism toward dominant legal claims of neutrality, object ivity, colorblindness, and meritocracy . challenge ahistoricismÂ” and foreground Â“the e xperiential knowledge of people of colorÂ” (Lynn and Parker 2006: 261). As was dem onstrated using the Hillsborough County
42 School District as a case in Chapter Two, race/ ethnicityand class-based inequity is a hallmark of public education in the United Stat es; it would be nave, at best, to assume that the larger socio-political structures that nurtured such inequity hi storically have little or no contemporary effects on schooli ng for African American students. Trends in Standardized Te sting and Graduation Rates The third research question that focuses this study addresses trends in academic outcomes for African American students in Hillsborough County: 3.) What are the trends in school racial /ethnic and socioeconomic makeup, FCAT scores, and graduation rates in Hillsborough County? Understanding trends in achievement a nd demographic variables in Hillsborough County means understanding larger state a nd national policies aimed at increasing African American studentsÂ’ achievement, policies the School District of Hillsborough County is obliged to follow in order to receive funding. Demographic, judicial, and district policy changes in Hillsborough County that were explored in Chapter Two will not be repeated here. Instead, this sec tion briefly explores Hillsborough County FCAT scores and graduation rates in relationship to changes in nationa l and state education policies. The research in this section can be categorized as blending analyses of the structure of schooling with analyses of the cultural environmen t surrounding schooling. Attention to disparities in educationa l achievement in education literature coincides with a larger national discussion of the failing American sc hool system that has persisted since the standardiz ed testing movement began in full earnest (Howard 2003: 81). The 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, published by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, ushered in this new era of syst emic reform and standardization
43 in education. Their report explicitly links lax educational standards to the nationÂ’s weakening international clout as a manufact uring and economic giant. The alarmist language of the report sent shockwaves through public edu cational institutions and in private homes; the nation quickly and fervently turned its attention to student academic performance and the mechanisms used to measure that performance. Social scientists studying the social and cultural impact of A Nation at Risk argue that systemic reforms energized by the CommissionÂ’s report had far-reaching consequences for the structure of educa tion in the United States, and, by extension, student groups and individuals The connection between the rh etoric of systemic reform and the on-the-ground effects of that refo rm remains a salient concern among these researchers (Borman and Greenman 1994: ix-xiii ). Two significant rhetorical elements of the CommissionÂ’s report Â– the importance of educating AmericaÂ’s students for the changing workforce and the lack of systematic educational standards Â– set the stage for No Child Left BehindÂ’s current domination of educational policies nationwide. The reportÂ’s conflation of the failure of public education and economic instability through the 1970s and 1980s fundamentally ch anged the relationships between the business and education communities (Martin 199 4: 133-140). Martin argues that business people at all levels, Â“who saw a poorly prepar ed work force as the root cause of the slumping U.S. economy . support[ed] incr eased appropriations and tax hikes for educationÂ” (1994: 139) as a result of the CommissionÂ’s report. Furthermore, federal disinvestment in public education funding ope ned a space for business leaders to exert greater influence on educational institutionsÂ’ policies in exchange for their financial support (Martin 1994: 139). The results of th is greater business influence in public
44 education can be seen in the emphasis on st udent acquisition of ba sic skills, provisions for Â“choiceÂ” among public institutions, and the linking of school funding to student academic performance embedded in current na tionwide policies (Bartlett et. al. 2002; Salinas and Reidel 2007). It is difficult to overstate the importance of the call for educational standardization in A Nation at Risk to current educational policies. In the decades after the publication of A Nation at Risk, state governments began to spearhead efforts at standardization and reform in education (Schwartz 2003: 132). Sc hwartz contends that president Ronald Reagan, who Â“had campaigned on a pledge to abolish the Department of Education[,] was an unlikely candidate to provide nationa l leadership in responding to the conditions so graphically outlined in the CommissionÂ’s re portÂ” (2003: 132). In ju st months after the publication of A Nation at Risk, governors around the nation, and particularly in the South, were assembling policy-making teams charged with analyzing the status of education in their states and creating reform policies to address educational inadequacies (Vinovskis 2003: 118). In the two decades after the CommissionÂ’s publication, state departments of education developed educati onal standards for their public K-12 schools and tests to assess student acqui sition of these standards. Wh at teachers were expected to teach and what students were expected to le arn, as well as the importance of testing for academic promotion, varied throughout the nation. These individualized state efforts culminated in a federal system of oversigh t and accountability when the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 attached federal school di strict funding to student performance on tests already administered through state de partments of education. Thus began a new chapter in standardized testing.
45 In Florida, A Nation at Risk further bolstered an educa tion reform movement that was already in its infancy before the repor t was actually released (Elmore 2003: 25-26) Over the following two decades successi ve Florida governors would introduce more finely-tuned and wide-reaching reforms, one of the most significant being the institution of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in the 1990s. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is us ed to measure progress in mathematics, science, reading, and writing for students in grades 3-11 which is, in turn, used to determine funding allocations to schools under No Child Left Behind guidelines. No Child Left Behind, in fact, is modeled after FloridaÂ’s A+ Plan, incl uding its insistence that every child can succeed, Â“opportunities can and will be distributed equally among all students in all schoolsÂ” (Lee & Borman 2007: 244), and that standardized testing will close the Â“achievement gapÂ” between White and African Americ an students (Lee & Borman 2007). Initiated in 1999, the A+ plan also attached school funding to school ratings on an ABCDF scale (Lee & Borman 2007: 245), and now students must pass the Tenth Grade FCAT to graduate from high school. Lee and Borman tell us, Â“Currently, attendance, discipline, and dr opout rates are not part of th e formula for assigning singleletter grades to schoolsÂ” (2007: 245), although all these criteria were originally included in a schoolÂ’s accountability measurement. FloridaÂ’s A+ Plan is part of a larger focus on education that has shaped Florida education policy since the 1970s. In their exam ination of racial segregation and student performance in Florida schools, Borman et al (2004) argue that the A+ Plan was built primarily upon an earlier reform effort (Blueprint 2000) aime d at Â“decentralizing school management while ensuring that accountability continued to be focused on the school and
46 the studentÂ” (612-613). However, the Florid a Department of Education, the Florida legislature, the governor, and other state agen cies were not similarly held accountable for equalizing educational funding, personnel, faci lities, or equipment within and across districts (Borman et al. 2004: 613). The 1995 public release of names of the stateÂ’s lowest performing schools Â“served as the beginning of the implementation of sanctions against schools that did not make adequate progres sÂ” (Borman et al. 2004: 613) every three years. In essence, the A+ Plan ensures that schools are not funded equally, with high performing schools receiving extra funding and low performing schools facing state oversight (Borman et al. 2004: 613). The ultimate consequence for students not meeting these state and federal mandates is non-promotion, including not gradua ting with a standard diploma at the end of high school. In Hillsborough County, the percentage of 10th-grade FCAT reading test takers to score at or above level 3 (pa ssing) dropped from 42 percent in 2001 to 36 percent in 2007, with the y ear 2005 seeing as low as 34 pe rcent at or above level 3 (Florida Department of Education 2008a). For math scores over the same years, the percentage of those at or above level 3 stayed relatively stable at 67 percent, with a high of 68 percent and a low of 65 percent (Florida Department of Education 2008a). These numbers tell us that a large pr oportion of all students, not ju st African American students, face the possibility of not gr aduating due to scores on one statewide test. The four-year graduation rate in Hillsborough County rose from 75.8 percent in the 2002-2003 school year to 79.1 percent in the 2006-2007 school year (Florida Department of Education 2008b). These numbers should be read with cau tion; though they refl ect official statecalculated statistics, formulas for determining gradua tion and dropout rates can produce
47 higher and lower numbers (respectively) than the actual rates of students graduating and dropping out of school. If we are to take these st atistics at face value, however, they are still woefully inadequate for the needs of a society that aims to be on the social and technological cutting edge. While there are sa fety mechanisms in place for students who do not pass one or more sections of the 10thand 11th-Grade FCAT tests on the first try (e.g. multiple test taking opportunities and altern ative tests), these numbers indicate that the goal of reaching 100% proficiency by 2014 is far from reach in Hillsborough County. The next chapter will provide a more detailed picture of test scores and graduation rates for Black students in particular. Community Organizations and African American Students The final research question th at guides this study is rela ted directly to the primary study site: 4.) How do community-based organizations in Hillsborough County address FCAT passage and high school graduation issues? Community-based organizations like the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope can be characterized as youth serving organizati ons, and, more specifically, as youth development organizations (Bridglall 2005: 39). This program is considered a youth development organization because of its fo cus on developing leadership skills, positive social behaviors, academic achieveme nt, and community engagement among its participants. Youth serving organizations, as a whole, are marked by their diversity of services offered, ages/grades targeted, f unding sources, and intended purpose. Research concerning such services mirrors their dive rsity, in terms of the research questions investigated, research agenda, methodology, a nd conclusions. The rese arch reviewed in
48 this section can be considered investigations of the characteristics of a group or the characteristics of individuals. One study that quantitatively examines th e characteristics of individual students was conducted among 14 urban and rural afte r-school sites in a Midwestern state (Morrissey and Werner-Wilson 2005). The auth ors approach participation in out-ofschool-time activities as possi ble predictors of such positive social behaviors and attitudes as altruism, car ing, and kindness (Morrissey and Werner-Wilson 2005). Over 300 young people engaged in after-school program s completed a survey that gauged their attitudes toward their familyÂ’s influence on behavior, opportunities for engagement in community activities, attitudes toward the communities in which they lived, attitudes toward and level of participation in out-of-s chool-time activities, and altruistic behaviors (Morrissey and Werner-Wilson 2005: 76-77). Correlations, cau sal analyses, and partial regression analyses were conducted to determin e to the effect each independent variable (family structure, age/grade, and community structure) had on attit udinal and behavioral variables. The authors confirmed their hypo theses that attitudes toward community, attitudes toward family, and opportunities for engagement in the community predicted involvement in after-school activities; that attitudes toward family predicted attitudes toward community; and that attitudes toward community predicted pro-social behaviors (Morrissey and Werner-Wilson 200 5: 82). However, attitudes toward family did not predict pro-social behaviors (Mo rrissey and Werner-Wilson 2005: 82). While Morrissey and Werner-Wilson acknowle dge the exploratory nature of their analysis, as well as the need for further study, they conclude that th is study suggests that positive youth development is influenced mo re directly by the availability of and
49 participation in community-based activities th an by family characteristics or attitudes toward family, particularly for older a dolescents (2005: 82-83). The demographic makeup of the young people involved in Morrissey and Werner-WilsonÂ’s study Â– predominantly White, middle income, Midwestern students Â– does not mirror the demographic makeup of participants in this research, though 11% of the participants in Morrissey and Werner-WilsonÂ’s study were African American. At the same time, I do not suspect that race/ethnicity, al one, would be a significant fact or in determining whether or not a student develops positive social attitude s and behaviors. Rather, I would expect that opportunities for and actual engagement in community-based ac tivities Â– one of Morrissey and Werner-WilsonÂ’s predictors of positive youth development Â– may vary depending on location and income (i.e. a low-income student may spend more time earning wages out of school than engagi ng in community-based organizations). Morrissey and Werner-WilsonÂ’s study is important to this research because it suggests that community-based organizations may play an important role in helping young people grow into healthy, socially aware adults. Fine, Weis, Centrie, and Roberts (20 00) take a qualitative approach to understanding the impact of community-based organizations, and this study can be considered an examination of the char acteristics of groups. Their study of two community-based organizations Â– an arts pr ogram and a spiritual community Â– examines these programs as alternative spaces where participants build co mmunity across social differences (Fine et al. 2000). In other words, these are places in which participants who differ in race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, education level, and geographic origin come together to create positive social connections in urban places where little
50 opportunities to do so existed before. These Â“spaces of differenceÂ” (Fine et al. 2000) act as safe havens, sites of resistance to social oppression and marginalization, and institutions of social support. Importantl y, the authors analyze these organizations as informal educational institutions, spaces where members have the freedom and power to reinvent personal and communal identities (F ine et al. 2000: 132). The MollyOlga arts center in Buffalo, New York and an Orisha community in New York City were chosen from a larger study of such organizations in th ese and other northeastern cities to serve as Â“emblems of pluralistic sitesÂ” (Fine et al. 2000: 131) places where participants redefine difference and social stratification by equali zing access to services and power within the organizations. One characteristic that marks these sites is multi-aged participation. That is, older people, middle-aged people, young adults, and children were all welcome to engage in activities provided thro ugh these organizations. Though tens ions within individuals and across groups were not completely erased through participation in these two communities, the authors conclude that participating represented Â“significant moments in educative practice in which young men and wo men came together to create community, amassing and specifically working with and agai nst their differences Â– neither erasing nor reifying [them]Â” (Fine et al. 2000: 148). This st udy is important to th is thesis research because it suggests that community-based organi zations can offer informal education that not only supplements formal education, but o ffers alternative edu cative opportunities in which creativity and agency can be expressed even when they are stifled in other social arenas. Both the communities included in Fi ne et al.Â’s study served a large population of African American participants.
51 These two studies offer unique insight in to youth development programs in that they examine these organizations as altern ative spaces for education and examine youth development as a mechanism for promoti ng positive outcomes, rather than as a mechanism for preventing negative outcomes. Stil l, much research is needed in the area of youth development services, particularly the day-to-day operations that translate into actual positive social (and academic) outcomes.
52 CHAPTER FOUR Research Design and Methodology The impetus for this research began at a community town hall meeting in January 2007. The Tampa Bay Human Rights Coalition (TBHRC) organized this meeting for community members to discuss issues of African American cultural and historical awareness. Â“Cultural AwarenessÂ” was one of the eight community Â“pillarsÂ” the TBHRC identified as important to the well-bei ng of the Tampa Bay community. Community members were asked to select issues, con cerns, and problems they would like to see addressed in each of these eight pillars. As a new resident of Tampa, I was interested in gaining a better understanding of the social justice issues community members were concerned with, as well as the nature of co mmunity activism in this region. During the course of the meeting I learned that one of the other TBHRC pillars was education, my personal and professional interest. I spoke with the president of the TBHRC, who is also the president and founder of the TBAH, concerning becoming involved with the TBHRCÂ’s efforts at improving education. Part of my initial involv ement with the TBHRC entailed learning more about the history of the organization. The organization was founded in 2005, after racial tensions arose following the deaths of two Black children due to a car accident involving a school teacher of White and Latin heritage. Neith er the woman, who fled the scene of the
53 accident, nor her father, who helped her clean the childrenÂ’s blood off her car, were sentenced to jail time following this trage dy. Many residents were outraged at this apparent miscarriage of justice, and both Black and White community members organized the TBHRC to investigate and addre ss other issues of soci al injustice plaguing TampaÂ’s community. Over the course of 2006, the TBHRC held monthly town hall meetings for community members to share what they viewed as the most important issues threatening social justice in the areas of the family, lega l systems, education, religion, economics, the media, and housing, eventually developing a set of goals under each of these broad topics. Cultural awareness was adde d in the meeting I at tended in January of 2007. Upon further discussion and involvement with the TBHRC I read through transcripts of some of the mee tings from 2006. Of particular in terest to me were the goals established under education. The first two educ ation goals community members set were: Â“1.) The percentage of African Amer ican students passing the FCAT shall equal the percentage of a ll students passing the FCAT. 2.) The percentage of African Amer ican students gra duating high school shall equal the percentage of all stud ents graduating high school.Â” (Tampa Bay Human Rights Co alition 2007: 3). The position of these goals at the top of the list indicated to me that they were topics of the utmost importance for the pe ople who attended these town hall meetings. These goals indicated to me that some African Americans in the Tampa Bay area perceive a problem in both FCAT testi ng and high school graduation for African American students. The transcripts reveal in fact, that some community members
54 originally wanted the first goal to be the di smantling of the FCAT altogether, a goal that was quickly considered to be unattainable at that meeting (Tam pa Bay Human Rights Coalition 2007: 2). The resear ch project I developed from th ese goals is meant to better understand the ways African American student s and parents experience the impact of standardized testing and its rela tionship to high school graduation. Research Questions Four research questi ons guided this study: 1.) How do African American Hillsborough C ounty public school stud ents and parents frame their experiences with and opinions of the tenth-grade FCAT? 2.) How do African American Hillsborough County students and parents frame their experiences with and opinions of high school graduation? In order to contextualize the data participants provided within a larger social context, I also asked: 3.) What are the trends in school racial/et hnic and socioeconomic makeup, FCAT scores, and graduation rates in Hillsborough County? 4.) How do community-based organizatio ns in Hillsborough County address FCAT passage and high school graduation issues? These questions developed over time within the context of the internships I sought out through the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope and the Tampa Bay Human Rights Coalition. Due to logistical difficulties Â– pa rticularly, waning atte ndance at town hall meetings Â– my internship with the TBHRC di d not materialize as originally expected. However, I continued to work with the TB AH, focusing on studentsÂ’ perspectives. The focus on research participantsÂ’ perspectives and opinions serve as an approach to
55 understanding African American academic achie vement from a perspective that is less often explored in other types of studies. One of the fundamental goals of anthropological inquiry is to connect etic ( outsider) and emic (insider) poi nts of view on a particular cultural institution. In the a bundance of etic viewpoints on the causes and consequences of African American academic achievement, a dding more of the emic perspective helps balance our knowledge base c oncerning this topic. Research Design and Operationalization The design for this research is a c onjunction where the research problems, purpose, and questions meet with the actual da ta collection instruments. Developing this design involved defining and refining term s and domains of interest. Here I define Â“African American Hillsborough County public school students and pa rentsÂ” as current and recently graduated public school students, and their parents, who identify as African American or Black. This research focu sed primarily on inner-city residents of Hillsborough County who participate in pr ograms associated with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope. However, during the course of the research project I also interviewed four people who fell outside of this strict de finition of participants. One father of middle and elementary school-aged children particip ated in this resear ch. Also, a young woman who resides in an outer suburb of Tampa but attends an inner-city school and her mother participated in this research. Finally, I inte rviewed one recent graduate who had attended two inner-city high schools. This project was primarily concer ned with the Tenth-Grade Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) a nd the issues that surround the test and graduation. FCAT scores refer to the official FCAT achievement level (from 1 to 5) a
56 participant self-reports. Graduation rates refer to the type of diploma students are on track to receive or have already r eceived: honorÂ’s diploma, standard diploma, certificate of completion, special diploma, or no diploma. These terms are further defined in the findings chapter and in the Appendix. I de termine trends in racial/ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of schools, FCAT sc ores, and graduation rates by examining these data Â– provided through the Florida De partment of Educa tion Â– for the 2007-2008 school year. Non-distri ct organizations include programs and institutions dedicated to tutoring, advocacy, and/or educational policy change. This study was originally designed to probe both studentsÂ’ and parentsÂ’ perceptions, but time and logistical constrai nts made parent interviews much more difficult to obtain than student interviews Additionally, though I originally hoped to provide profiles for more than one community organization, particip ant-observation with the TBAH revealed the depth of interactions and operations that may not be captured through descriptions or one-time visits with community-based organizations. Instead I focused solely on the TBAH, so as not to provide an incomplete picture of other programs due to a lack of extended involvement with their operations. This study was designed to i nvestigate the ways participants perceive the effects of specific school policies and practices on st udents in school and in the larger African American community, thus affecting FCAT scores and graduati on rates for African American students in Hillsborough County. The specific aspects of policy and practice I studied are 1) FCAT preparation and te sting, and 2) administrator and teacher encouragement. FCAT prepara tion and testing refers to th e in-school and out-of-school activities available for students to prepare for the FCAT, FCAT testing procedures,
57 dissemination of FCAT results, and post-FCA T instruction and school activities. As Walpole, et al. (2005) sugge st, student achievement and student perceptions of standardized tests are impacted by their test preparation experiences. In this case, test preparation takes place within schools and can potentially take place in community-based organizations. Preparation and testing is thus a major part of the school curriculum and the schoolÂ’s climate. This study was meant to explore the ways students interpret the part preparation and testing plays in FCAT scor es and graduation rates for themselves and their peers. I also investigated the ways administ rators and teachers discuss the FCAT, diploma options, and school course options with students and pare nts as aspects of administrator and teacher encouragement. Ba ber (1999), Valenzuela (1999), Valenzuela et al. (2007), and Sloan (2007) suggest that teachers and administrators impact student and parent perceptions of school, testing, and graduation both by enacting policy and through their attitudes toward and expectati ons of students and parents. Here I am interested in student experiences with administ rators and teachers as they relate to the FCAT and graduation. As a method of understanding the ways participants viewed the FCAT and graduation in general, I examined their sh ared thoughts and opini ons. Shared opinions include perceived positive and negative aspe cts of the FCAT, the perceived purposes of the FCAT, the ways participants feel concer ning the schoolÂ’s role in helping facilitate achievement, and suggested improvements to the test and graduation requirements. Grounded in school policies and pr actices participants have experienced, this domain of
58 interest was also intended to encourage participants to connect these experiences to what they considered to be a more ideal educational environment. Policies and practices also affect comm unities as they respond to the education they believe students in their communities re ceive. I explored the impact of FCAT and graduation rates on the Afri can American community outside of school by investigating the ways the TBAH addresses FCAT and/or graduation issues for African American students. This type of institution is wh at Bridglall (2005: 39) defines as a youth development program. This research was intended to understand the mechanisms by which the TBAH, as a youth development program, addresses the FCAT and graduation for the students it serves. Participants The student and parent participants in this research project were primarily, though not solely, drawn from the larger Tampa Ba y Academy of Hope membership. The sample population for semi-structured interviewing was originally based on two criteria: 10th grade FCAT experience and gender. Of the ove r fifty students who participated regularly in TBAH events, fifteen were in grades eleven and twelve and had taken the 10th grade FCAT at least once. However, not all these students participated in TBAH events and programs at equal levels. Certain young women te nded to be more visible at events and at the AcademyÂ’s office than others participants. Therefore, students were ultimately asked to participate in inte rviewing based primarily on the am ount of contact I had with them, and a conscious effort was made to include similar numbers of young men and young women. Participants were purposefully selecte d, and thus are not a representative sample of the population. A university-sponsored co mmunity organizing event allowed me the
59 opportunity to recruit one parent and student from outside the TBAH. Finally, parent interviews were not as easy to conduct as originally hoped for, as I encountered many parents only in passing or in short interval s. In all, one father, one mother, three young men, and five young women were interviewed. Th e final results only include data from the student participants. Data Collection Data collection activities consisted of observation, participan t observation, semistructured interviews, unstructured interviews, and archival data collection. Observation and participant observation were conducted prim arily in association with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, though I also attended thr ee community-based even ts outside of the Academy. As an intern with the TBAH, I partic ipated in daily activities at the office and events sponsored by the Academy elsewhere in the community. My role in daily office activities primarily consisted of contacting parents and students to inform them of upcoming events and schedule them for visits with leadership coaches. I spent an average of twelve hours per week in the TBAH office in this capacity, ta king field notes during and after the time spent there. Handwritten not es were later typed for analysis. I also participated in weekend and non-school-d ay events sponsored by the TBAH. These events included Saturday meetings of the YLC and PLAN, a field trip to the movies during an in-service day for Hillsborough Count y teachers, the annual Youth Leadership Conference, and the induction ceremony for new students into the YLC. I conducted two types of interviews during the course of this research project. I conducted semi-structured interviews with all student participan ts using the same interview protocol and adjusting and/or ad ding questions when appropriate. All except
60 one student interview was tape-recorded using a handheld cassette tape recorder and later transcribed. One student interview was not tape-recorded, and extensive hand-written notes were taken during and after this inte rview. One parent participated in an unstructured interview conducted spontaneously at the movie event described above. This interview loosely followed the parent interv iew protocol, and the questions and answers were recorded with hand-written notes. Th e other parent interview followed a protocol similar to the student interview, with questions added when appropriate. Archival data collected as a part of this project include printe d materials from the TBAH office at the times I was present and ach ievement and demographic data collected and stored by the Florida Department of Education and the School District of Hillsborough County. Printed materials from the TBAH office include correspondence between the Academy and members I drafted as an intern with th e program, student call lists, and descriptions of the aims and in tents of the Leadership Through Education program the Academy offers. Achievement and demographic data were downloaded from the Florida Department of Education and the School District of Hillsborough County websites and used to create descriptive and e xploratory statistics th at capture trends and provide an overall picture of the countyÂ’s high schools. Data Analysis All handwritten notes were word processe d using Microsoft Word as close to the day of the actual event as possible. Tape-r ecorded interviews we re transcribed using Microsoft Word as well. To analyze text data gathered through participant-observation, interviewing, and archival re search, I developed codes bot h deductively and inductively and compared these codes across the different types of data. I utiliz ed the coding strategy
61 outlined by LeCompte and Schensul (1999) to identify structures, patterns, units, and items of analysis. The above-mentioned aspect s of school policies and practices and the community impact of the FCAT and gradua tion were used to fi rst develop deductive codes for structures, patterns, and units ba sed on the respective dom ains, factors, subfactors, and variables outlined in the rese arch design (LeCompte and Schensul 1999: 3334). I then analyzed the text data inductiv ely to develop codes for items emerging from the data within each structure. For example, Â“administrator and teacher encouragementÂ” is a structure developed deductively based on the questions I asked as a part of that domain. The item coded as Â“assembliesÂ” wa s created inductively based on the ways students responded to questions related to administrator a nd teacher encouragement. All interview transcripts, field notes, a nd archival data were coded by hand and the codes were entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for further analysis. Parent interviews were not added to student intervie ws due to the small number of parents who participated in the research. To identify salie nt themes under each of the four deductively created structures, I f iltered excerpts of text that we re labeled with each code and analyzed the extent to which different interv iewees agreed with one another. Any topic that was discussed by four or more intervie wees and was labeled with one of the four primary codes was considered a theme and included in the results of the study. This process allowed me to identify three major th emes, which will be discussed in the results section of this thesis. Descriptive and exploratory statis tical analyses were conducted with the school as the unit of analysis. The c ounty has twenty-five regular high schools. These statistics served two broad purposes. First, descriptiv e statistics were compiled to discern school-
62 based differences in the average percent pa ssing (the FCAT), the average FCAT mean scale score, and the average pe rcentages of students achieving at each of the five FCAT achievement levels for Black students, White students, and the en tire student population. A principal components analysis was conducted to explore the characteristics that define schools in this district an d variation among them. In other words, the principal components analysis allowed me to unders tand the differences that characterize Hillsborough County schools based on these pe rformance and demographic data. These statistics were computed using the Statis tical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), Version 16.0. The data used to compute thes e statistics were collected by the Florida Department of Education (http ://fcatresults.com/demog/). To embark on this research I first so ught Internal Review Board approval through the University of South Florida to work with vulnerable populations. I first introduced my research to participantsÂ’ parents in a letter sent to all TBAH members, inviting them to be a part of the research if they met the criter ia outlined previously. Parent participants and the parents of student participants signed an informed consent agreement that described the purpose, procedures, risks, benefits, a nd potential outcomes of the research. All student participants were at least sixteen y ears of age, and were thus asked to sign an assent agreement to participate in the rese arch. Everyone asked to participate was given an explanation of the project a nd their rights of non-disclosure as participants. No actual names are used in this or any future public ations, including the names of TBAH staff. Finally, I decided to conceal the names of the schools the students attend primarily because students did not represent all twenty-fiv e schools. In other word s, this research is in no way an indictment or endorsement of any individual schools, but a description of
63 the larger system within which these schools operate. The next chapter outlines the findings of this research project.
64 CHAPTER FIVE Findings The findings presented in this chapter ar e drawn from interviews of five African American females and three African American males, all students or former students from one of three predominantly African American Hillsborough County high schools. These schools include the medical/technical academy, the performing arts magnet school, and one of the science/technology magnet schools. I augment these data with participant observation data from events and everyda y program operations of the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, a non-profit youth developm ent organization with which all but one interviewee was involved. I also include descriptive and expl oratory statistics to further contextualize the district within which schools these st udents attended operate. The purpose of this research was to understand the ways African American students in Hillsborough County high schools frame their thinking regarding the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (F CAT) and high school graduation. The Tenth-Grade FCAT is used to determ ine a studentÂ’s eligibility for graduation, as well as a high schoolÂ’s overall school grade and its progress toward ensuring students in all ethnic/racial, gender, income, (dis)a bility, and English language proficiency subgroups perform at grade level. As students in this research study indicated, the FCAT is intertwined with fundamental el ements of school structure as well as teacher-student and
65 administrator-student interac tions. In fact, studentsÂ’ di scussion of the FCAT and graduation reflect elements of school structure, in that their opini ons of the reasons for and consequences of the FCAT are colored by their experiences with FCAT preparation and testing. Part of the process of FCAT pr eparation and testing involves teachersÂ’ and administratorsÂ’ speech and actions surrounding the FCAT. This chapter will describe the ways students connect the FCAT to larger sc hool processes, thus impacting individual studentsÂ’ educationa l trajectories. This chapter will also utilize descriptive and exploratory statistics to contextualize Black student achievement with in the larger district se tting. A principal components analysis was conducted to explore connec tions between school structure and Black student achievement on the FCAT. What remain s most apparent in these discussions of FCAT, graduation, and school structure is the degree to which students unanimously disagree with FCAT testing, not so much becau se of personal consequences of the test, but because of the seeming irrelevance of a test that determines graduation when other academic elements are in place to do the sa me thing. Students see the FCAT as punitive and relevant only to grading the school, as th ese other academic elements Â– particularly final examinations in each course and co llege entrance exams like the SAT and ACT Â– are already established and directly connected to what students must demonstrate they have learned during th eir high school careers. FCAT Preparation, Testing, a nd the Receipt of Scores This report of FCAT preparation, testi ng, and receipt of sc ores results from descriptions students provided when I asked them about their experi ences regarding these three aspects of the test. The state of Florida requires stude nts to pass the reading, math,
66 and writing, portions of the Tenth-Grade FCAT, and now the science portion of the Eleventh-Grade FCAT, in order to graduate. For students who particip ated in this study, the science portion was not yet a requirement. Students in the eleventh grade at the time of interviewing took the science portion in their tenth-grade year but were not required to pass in order to graduate. The Tenth-Grade FCAT is first administer ed in March of a studentÂ’s tenth-grade year. Some of the students who participated in interviewing passed al l parts of the FCAT in the first attempt, while others did not pass one or more parts in the first attempt. This variation in testing experiences can be seen in their descriptions of classroom activities meant to prepare students for testing. Wh ether or not a studen t passes one or more sections of the test in the first attempt dete rmines whether or not a student is placed in Â“intensiveÂ” reading or math cl asses. As one male student e xplained it, Â“they place you in intensive classes and take your electives awa y.Â” These Â“intensiveÂ” cl asses are designed to prepare students for test-taking by imparting sp ecific test-taking skills. Placement in these Â“intensiveÂ” classes effectively tracks most students in remedial and regular courses, barring opportunities to participate in A dvanced Placement and other higher-level courses. Students in this st udy described test-preparation acti vities specifi cally for their Â“intensiveÂ” reading classes in the most deta il. When I asked what kinds of activities students did in class to prepar e, they described a variety of activities meant to improve test-taking skills: Â“for the reading portion of the test we do like scanning and proofreading for the FCAT, and finding the main idea, and like stuff for the article, and
67 stuff like that. WhatÂ’s important, and whatÂ’s not importantÂ” (male student who attended the performing arts magnet). Â“we receive worksheets and we do a lot of reading and a lot of comprehension of vocabulary. Um . taking, taking practice tests. Um, trying to do it on our own, because that Â’s basically what FCAT is, doing it on our own. And then you know . [the teacher] will go ove r it for to see what um how we did on it, and it would be our grade [for that assignment]Â” (female student w ho attended the medical/technical academy). For math and writing, students were a bit mo re vague in their explanations of test preparation. For non-Â“intensiveÂ” classes, stude nts saw test preparation as part of the regular curriculum. One female student who took honors and Advanced Placement courses and passed all parts in the first attempt said, Â“To be honest, the only class that really helped prepare for the FCAT was my En glish classes, and thatÂ’s pretty much basic stuff thatÂ’s required in English.Â” Another fema le student who also pa ssed all parts in the first attempt described test preparation as a part of the specific class: Â“we have to write essays and stu ff, and it then depends on what class youÂ’re in, that you have to do different st uff. Like with math, they have to teach you certain things so you can get ready for the [test].Â” As this student indicates, math classes are generally seen as preparation for the tests themselves. A male student who passed the math portion in the first attempt confirmed the previous studentÂ’s comment by saying, Â“the math classes I take, theyÂ’re
68 not FCAT, but like, its most of the stuff th atÂ’s gonna be on the FCAT, so thatÂ’s kinda preparation.Â” When I asked whether or not students fe lt well-prepared before taking the test, responses varied based on the schools the students attended. Students in the medical/technical school Â– an Â‘AÂ’ school Â– and the science/te chnology magnet school Â– an Â‘FÂ’ school Â– felt that teacher s did all they could to help students prepare for the test. They said that they felt as prepared as they could have been at the time they first attempted the test in the 10th grade. Somewhat surprisingly, only one of these students passed all parts in the first attempt. On the other hand, the four students who attended the performing arts magnet school Â– a Â‘DÂ’ school Â– were more critical of their schoolÂ’s attempts at preparing students. One male student indicated that ma ny administrators were new to the school, and they were not quite meeting their oblig ations for student pr eparation. The students offered examples: Â“before they didnÂ’t have like after school FCAT practice help and stuff like that, and like, somebody, I think so mebody talked to them about that, so they just recently started having FCAT, like, after school and stuff like that to help you pass the FCAT, or if you wanna get a higher score. .Â” (male student) One female student who passed all parts in the first attempt said: Â“I think they try to act like they do all they can, but I donÂ’t think that they do, really. .for example, um, I be lieve the year I took the FCAT the principal had a sign put up in school, something about um, um, something
69 about, um Â‘oh, we can beat the FCAT Â’ or something like that. And then, usually when it gets closer to the time theyÂ’ll be announcements made. Like, Â‘oh, letÂ’s get those FCAT scor es up.Â’ You know, just kind of I guess encouragement.Â” She and another female student offered almost the same explanation for why the attempt at preparation falls short. The other student, who took honors and AP courses but did not pass the math or writing parts in the first attempt, said: Â“I walk into the high school and they have all these signs everywhere, you know Â‘FCAT; FCAT Practice; Go FC AT; Go students; Go FCAT With Students.Â’ These crazy things that you would see in an elementary school, for, like, additions tables Â‘one plus one equals twoÂ’ a nd you just see these FCAT signs.Â” While they see visible indicators that the FC AT is important, actual preparation is, for them, too little and too late: Â“Like, some of the math sections an d science sections, they just had us take them, and we hadnÂ’t even been tr ained on them in class. TheyÂ’ll give us a packet and say that itÂ’s been sufficiently covered, when weÂ’re not even taught the material in cla ssÂ” (female student who attended performing arts magnet). Â“They had pep rallies for the tenth gr aders to tell you about how important it is that you do your best . It would come on the morning show; they had [FCAT] pins on their shirts. But th ey donÂ’t go into full detail until the month or maybe even the week of the FCAT. They donÂ’t start talking
70 about it or preparing for it until the month or two beforeÂ” (male former student who attended performing arts and science/technology magnets). These differences in test preparation among schools suggest that the emphasis placed on FCAT preparation is in part predicated on school-based administrative decisions. When it comes to actual testing, however, teachers and schools are required to follow strict guidelines. I as ked students about the mood in school during the time the FCAT is being taken, and most students indicat ed that their respect ive schools are quiet and focused on the test. The emphasis on being quiet is important, as students are not given the opportunity to influence their scores by discussing the test with the teachers or other students during the test or by roaming around the halls when any parts of the test are being taken. This ban on student movement in the hallways during test taking applies to students who are not taking th e test as well. Each section of the test administered on that day (reading, writing, and math tests ar e taken on separate days) ranges from 45 minutes to an hour, and there are scheduled br eaks between the sections. For tenth grade students, the test takes up ha lf the school day, and, in many ca ses, the school day is over after lunch. If you are re -taking the test or if you are de signated as in need of extended time, you are placed in a different area of the school and allowed the entire day to finish. (A student designated as needing extended time falls under a wide-ranging definition as an Exceptional Education student, or a student with one of many l earning or behavioral disabilities. Approximately 15% of all students in Hillsborough County Schools are designated as such). Students receive their scores months late r, when they are sent home during the summer intersession. If that student did not pass one or more sections of the test, they
71 will have the opportunity to test again in Oc tober of their eleventh-grade year, with scores from the re-take arriving in December of that year. Re-take scores are sent home and handed out at the school. Teacher/Administrator Encouragement FCAT Interview questions meant to understand Â“Teacher/Administrator EncouragementÂ” refer to discussions between students and t eachers, counselors, and/or administrators regarding the reasons for the FCAT, the sc hoolÂ’s A+ grade, gra duation rates at the school, and different types of diplomas (regula r diploma, honorÂ’s diploma, and certificate of completion) a student can receiv e. Interview responses coded as Â“Teacher/Administrator EncouragementÂ” also included discussions students reported having with faculty concerni ng the connection between the FCAT and later coursework. Given the flexibility of questioning a semi-s tructured interview protocol allows, these responses emerged during the c ourse of some interviews. The purpose of this line of questioning was to understand the degree to which students see faculty explicitly connecting the FCAT to elements of student learning and achievement. When I asked students about the types of discussions they had with faculty regarding the FCAT, the major source of information and encouragement students reported came in the forms of assemblies a nd incentives. Students fr om all three schools reported participating in school assemblies called explicitly for discussing FCAT issues. While the reasons for school assemblies varie d, most students agreed that ninthand tenth-graders were called together at a ssemblies where administrators stressed the
72 importance of passing the FCAT in order to graduate on time. As one male student described, Â“They have assemblies. So they get li ke, the main focus for the FCAT is the tenth graders because it really counts that year. But for the like ninth, for like the freshmen, they tell them uh, thatÂ’s when they start needing to, they start need to be getting serious and be focused on passing the FCAT.Â” A female student from anothe r school echoed his sentiment: Â“TheyÂ’ll say that the ninth grade is when you should get ready for your career to start. ThatÂ’s the time when you need to start getting serious, when you need to not come to school just because. TheyÂ’ll say what you need, what you should do, like try to be on time is what they say. TheyÂ’ll say what credits are required. They Â’ll say if you donÂ’t pass the FCAT, you can still pass the SAT.Â” Though assemblies are tied to the FCAT Â– especially for under classmen Â– assemblies can vary on a wide range of issues. The female student quoted above indicated that many assemblies at her school are discussions of a ttendance policy and the importance of making it to school and to every class on time. She also said that special assemblies were called when representatives fr om various colleges come to the school to discuss the college application process. The male student quoted above indicated that the focus of assemblies for upper classmen involves Â“telling [seniors] what they need, and everything like, from the SATs from the ACT and applying for college and stuff like that.Â”
73 One aspect of this discussion of the importance of the FCAT may have farreaching consequences for studentsÂ’ future academic trajectories. One male student indicated that the ninth-grade FCAT, a test th at does not have implications for graduation or promotion to the tenth-grade, is extrem ely important for tenthgrade coursework. He said, Â“in the ninth grade, I Christmas Treed it. The tenth grade depended on what you did in the ninth grade.Â” In other words, he did not expend effort (i.e. Â– Â“Christmas Treed itÂ”) on the ninth grade test because he knew it didnÂ’t count for graduation or promotion. However, it did count for whether or not he would be tracked into regular or Â“intensiveÂ” classes in the tenth grade. When I asked hi m if he knew beforehand that his ninth grade scores would determine tenth grade course sc heduling, he said, Â“No, at [that school] they didnÂ’t say the ninth grade test would determine your tenth grade classes.Â” This connection between nint h grade testing and tenth gr ade coursework was first introduced to me by this student, and thus not in the interview protocol. However, I did ask a student from a different school specifically about the imp act of the ninth grade test when I felt the interview had opened up an appr opriate space for me to do so. I asked him if the other studentÂ’s statem ent held true at his school. Â“Yeah, mostly its true. Cuz if you donÂ’t . cuz like, they donÂ’t tell you, it doesnÂ’t count, but it really doesnÂ’t, s o, most students ki nda figure it out it doesnÂ’t count, so like they donÂ’t really try, cuz itÂ’s just a practice test. So like, maybe like they donÂ’t do good, a nd the upcoming, for the tenth grade year they might have like intensive reading, intensive math classes, and stuff like that, because of a practi ce test they took freshman year.Â”
74 I am unable to determine the extent to whic h this practice is ubi quitous across schools from this particular study, but this issue warrants further investigation. Not knowing that a practice exam in the ninth grade will have implications for future coursework has serious consequences for studentsÂ’ opportunities for taking advanced courses. Most students indicated that their resp ective schools offered incentives for high FCAT achievement. One female student, who described her administ rators as Â“really passionate about making us pass the FCAT ,Â” completed her thought saying that: Â“they even try to get up, give us ince ntives, like, um, Ipods, Mp3 players, um, gift certificates, you know, based on if you make a certain amount. Or, you know, the most improved score. Like, if you take it, one time you didnÂ’t pass it, but you improved, like, so much, like, you got very high, they give you incentives and stuff.Â” Despite admonishments regarding the importance of passing and encouragement in the form of gift incentives, students repo rted limited discussion from administrators and teachers regarding the actual purpose of the FCAT. One male student put it bluntly, saying, Student: Â“No, they donÂ’t talk about reas ons. You just have to take it.Â” Researcher: Â“They just say Â‘ you just have to take it.Â’Â” Student: Â“YeahÂ” One female student from the same school re membered specifically asking teachers why the FCAT was necessary: Student: Â“I asked the teachers that, Â‘why do we have FCAT if we have individual exams that basically tell us what we need to know?Â’Â”
75 Researcher: Â“What do they say when you ask them that?Â” Student: Â“ItÂ’s a, itÂ’s a state test. That they have to prepare us for. They donÂ’t know.Â” One male student said, Â“Bas ically they just say, uh, it seems like where you need to be and like what standard youÂ’re on, a nd what kind of level youÂ’re on. I guess itÂ’s like a placement test.Â” Similarly, one female student from another school indicated that the new administration in her school did not discuss the reasons for the FCAT. When I asked her what she thought the reason wa s, she said, Â“I think itÂ’s to see where you are, what you need more work on. To see where you are and what else you need.Â” As will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter, students we re more likely to talk about the benefits of the FCAT in increasing student achievement, when asked if they thought there were any benefits to the test, than when they were as ked what teachers and ad ministrators indicated were the benefits of the test. Finally, two female students from differe nt schools indicated that faculty linked the reasons for the FCAT to the schoolÂ’s overall A+ grade. One student said, Â“I think they say something about itÂ’s good for the school grade. I know that much. Uh, it counts good against the students, if they do good. ThatÂ’s if you do good.Â” The other student was highly critical of the connection between individual student pe rformance and overall school grade. She also sums up a variety of issues discussed in th is section concerning teacher and administrator encouragement regarding the FCAT: Â“Like, the science FCAT that came out, they told us that we had to . at first she was Â– I think the principal Â– wa s telling us that we had to pass it to graduate, which wasnÂ’t true. So th ey would lie to us, on occasion, about
76 the FCAT. And then they would try giving us incentives about the FCAT. And, as I found out that it goes into a pe rcentage of the grading system for the school, of course.Â” Though students differ in how they expe rience faculty discussion concerning the reasons for the FCAT, what underlies these discussions is how little faculty actually discuss the FCAT beyond the fact that one must pass it to graduate. Only one student indicated that faculty explicitly linked the FCAT to actual student learning or assessment of a studentÂ’s academic skills. Though some students indicated that some teachers express dismay at having to administer the te st, they did not indicate that teachers or administrators explicitly discuss their dissati sfaction with students. Teachers may feel as if it is not their place or in their best inte rests, professionally, to voice negative opinions of the FCAT. As the next section details, di scussions of the overall school grade Â– which is determined by FCAT scores Â– is much more common. School Grades As can be expected, there is a differen ce between what students in the Â‘AÂ’ graded school and students in the schools with consistently failing grades say about teacher/administrator encouragement surrounding school grades. All three students from the Â‘AÂ’ graded school said that administrators were encourag ing about the fact that the school received an Â‘AÂ’ grade. One female stude nt seemed proud when she said that, Â“the juniors made our school get an A last year,Â” which was her class. Another female student, when asked if her administrators talk about the school grade, linke d the school grade to the benefits associated with high grades:
77 Â“Um hm, yeah, they post it up, a nd theyÂ’re like Â‘good job school, good job students. WeÂ’ve raised our grade upÂ’ because I think it was like a C or a B school last year, and now weÂ’re an A. And um, yeah when you, I think when you have good grades like that, that the school receives a check, and, you know, it goes towards the students. And we have more, more events, and more opportunities to do stuff, y ou know. [The faculty are] not just [saying], Â‘No, you canÂ’t do this, you gotta have fundraisers, need money.Â’ So, yeah, they talk about it. They bo ost it. ItÂ’s good, they like it and we like it. It just looks good, smart.Â” Students in lower performing schools indi cated that discussions about the school grade were focused more on improving the curr ent grade. One female student at one of the schools with a failing grade was critical of the effectiveness of the administrationÂ’s discussion of the school grade. She said, Â“The pr incipal talks about it a lot, but like I said, she doesnÂ’t really encourage th e students that need it more. She says, she talks about it, but talking is not really enough . .Â” Another female student at the same school was also critical, indicating that ther e are lots of signs around sc hool promoting the FCAT, but it seemed to promote an exploitative view of what the FCAT is for. She said, Â“I really felt like I was in some type of, like, holding [back of students], like, Â‘you donÂ’t get out until you pass FCAT and higher our numbers.Â’ ThatÂ’s just how I felt. And the te achers were very depressed about teaching the FCAT. Every time it came up it was like, Â‘Aww man, man!Â’Â” This student connects the school grade to teacherÂ’s disappoin tment in having to teach the FCAT. This statement supports SloanÂ’s argument that high-stakes tests, Â“ultimately work
78 against teachers and teaching because they monitor, surveille, and ultimately control teachersÂ” (2007: 25). Also, this student critic izes the responsibili ty that is placed on students to improve the sc hoolÂ’s overall score. Students who attended the other school w ith a failing grade did not talk at length about discussions concerning the school grade, other than the fact th at one year, Â“[the] principal said he would throw a block party if they passed. We were like two points away from a B.Â” What remained consistent across all inte rviews was that teachers, and especially administrators, discussed the school grade with students, whether it was to congratulate them for a job well done or express the importance of getting a better grade. Other than the student who spoke about the school re ceiving extra money, the students did not indicate that faculty discusse d the greater benefits of getti ng a high grade. Perhaps this non-discussion was due to a lack of probing on my part. However, the fact that all students affirmed discussions of the school grade, but not the reasons for the FCAT, graduation rates, or diploma options (discuss ed below), suggests th at the overall school grade is what administrators and teachers are concerned with impr oving. By extension, of course, improvement in the school grade neces sitates improvement in the performance of all student sub-groups. But improvements in th e overall school grade remains paramount, as resources are connected to this single indicator of school quality. Graduation Rates/Diploma Options In sharp contrast to discussions of sc hool grades, none of the students indicated that administrators or teachers talked sp ecifically about the graduation rates for their schools. Though students indicate that graduati on is a topic of discus sion, particularly in
79 assemblies for upper classmen, the actual graduation rates for the school are not. Three students said that they believe the percentage of students who do not graduate is small. When discussing graduation, however, all but one student talked about personally knowing or knowing of students who must take the FCAT many times during their high school career, students who walked in the gr aduation ceremony but did not graduate until after passing the FCAT in the summer afte r their senior year, or students who are concerned about not graduati ng because of not passing th e FCAT. While none of the students knew anyone who did not graduate because they did not pass the FCAT personally, one female student made an excelle nt point regarding such a situation: Â“IÂ’m pretty sure a student wouldnÂ’t really broadcas t that information.Â” A provision in the Florida school system allows students to leave school with a certificate of completion, which is not equivale nt to a diploma or GE D. This provision is controversial, as this certificate bars a st udent from entering higher education or from pursuing a GED at a later date. Given the nega tive consequences of leaving school with such a certificate, I did not expect administ rators or teachers to encourage students to pursue this type of diploma. This expecta tion was confirmed, as none of the students indicated having heard about cer tificates of completion from administrators or teachers. Only one student, a female student at th e medical/technical academy, offered details concerning receipt of a certificate of completion: Student: Â“I know when some people wa lk across the stage they get their certificates of completion, because we have different classes for business. Like, IÂ’m in accounting, you can gradua te in a, under an accountant certificate, that means youÂ’re qualified for the accounting field. So they
80 can get a certificate of completion like for accounting, but they wonÂ’t have any diploma saying that they gradua ted if they failed the FCAT.Â” Researcher: Â“So what does that do . so, the certificate of completion, if they get one for accounting, they, are they able to go on and do accounting, are they able to go on to like college, do you know?Â” Student: Â“All I know is that that ce rtificate tells the people that youÂ’re qualified to be an accountant, but I d onÂ’t know like certain jobs require a high school diploma also. So then you have to take, go back and take a GED or something. IÂ’m not sure, I canÂ’t really answer that.Â” While it is not surprising that there is not much discussion of certificates of completion, students are also able to graduate from high school with an honorÂ’s diploma, indicating that they have fulfilled honorÂ’s le vel coursework in th eir high school career. Similar to the certificate of completion, stude nts did not indicate having discussed this diploma option with teachers or administrators. What two male students did discuss c oncerning diploma options, however, was the initiative students must take to find su ch information. They said that teachers, administrators, and counselors will not spont aneously initiate such conversations, but students must inquire about different types of diplomas and other help with school issues. While only two students specifically identified this situation in their schools, this issue may be important to understanding the mechanisms through which students obtain information regarding their ed ucational options. Also, thes e two students attended two different schools. One student attending the medical/technical academy said, when I asked if faculty discuss different diploma options:
81 Student: Â“Overall, no, you have to ask about that. You have to go to the guidance counselor to talk about th at kind of stuff. They donÂ’t never mention thatÂ”. Researcher: Â“So if somebody were intere sted, then they would have to go seek out the guidance counselors?Â” Student: Â“Yeah, they wouldnÂ’t never just mention it. You would ask for itÂ” The other student, attending the performing arts magnet school, was more critical of this situation. When I asked whether or not facu lty discussed different diploma options for students he said: Â“Uh, not really, somewhat, they might give like a piece of paper that says it, or you might have to go into the guidance office and like ask. Because in our school you gotta like, if you donÂ’t do anything, wonÂ’t nobody help you. You have to like go and ask questi ons and ask all these questions just to get stuff. So itÂ’s like, you have to do it yourself. If you donÂ’t do it yourself, then they wonÂ’t help you. That Â’s why a lot of students are, like, behind because they, like, waiti ng on people to help them.Â” This student links academic outcomes fo r students to inaction on the part of administrators, teachers, and counselors more so than individual studentsÂ’ deficiencies, particularly when he says student s have to, Â“ask a ll these questions just to get stuff.Â” Experiences/Opinions of the FCAT The most important finding to emerge from this research is the extent to which students in this study unanimously disagree d with FCAT testing. While I originally expected students to dislike and possibly disagree wholeheartedly with the FCAT, the
82 nature of this disagreement reflects student ex periences with larger institutional structures intended to assess student ability and confer the right to graduate. In other words, students did not dislike the FCAT simply b ecause it was boring, but because it does not complement other institutional practices aime d at testing whether or not students have learned the material they are expected to learn. One female student attending the medical/technical academy said, when I asked about her general opinion concerning the FCAT: Â“I donÂ’t think there is a point to it, why should we take it? Well, we could take it, but why should it be necessary for us to have it for graduation, if the exams that we take at the end of every semester is telling the state and everybody else what we know? Because th ey teach us certain stuff, and then we have a test at the end of the nine weeks or at the end of the semester. Well, the end of the nine w eeks we have a test. And that should be able to tell the state what we, what the students know. Not the FCAT, and making it a graduation requirement.Â” In her view, exams taken regularly at the e nd of each quarter should be sufficient in proving to Â“the state and ev erybody elseÂ” what students ha ve learned and can do. The FCAT as an extra requirement for graduation does not make sense, since tests in each course are also required to pass classes and graduate. All but two students specif ically indicated that the FCAT is not needed for graduation or for entrance into college. Like the student quoted prev iously, these students linked graduation and college entrance to other exams already required for student assessment. One female student attend ing the performing arts academy said:
83 Â“I think itÂ’s a waste of ti me. And I definitely think it should not be like so heavily considered when it comes to graduating. I think we already have tests for that. If they want to have a te st that it, that is um, they wanted to use to determine who graduates, they should just use the SATs since itÂ’s already mandatory. And from there, that would make sure that every senior took the SATs because it woul d be mandatory and they need it to graduate. And at the same time they need it in order to get admitted to a university. ThatÂ’s my opinion.Â” This student connects both graduation and co llege entrance to othe r tests, making the FCAT just another institutional hurdle for st udents to jump before they are allowed to graduate. Furthermore, her suggestion that the SAT be used in place of the FCAT serves a more utilitarian purpose than the FCAT, since it would ensure that all students take one of the two exams required for most college and university admissions. Another reason students give for the pointlessness of the FCAT is that it technically is not required for high school graduation. As one female student attending the medical/technical academy said when I asked her general opinion of the FCAT: Â“I really donÂ’t know, like, why do we really need it if we can take the SATs in placement of it, why do we have to take this? . I really donÂ’t know why we need it. Just testing kids and its nerve wracking for some of them.Â” During participant-observation with the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, the program director confirmed her statement. A passing score on either the SAT or the ACT, two exams used to determine student eligibility for most colleges and universities, can be
84 offered to the school district in place of th e FCAT, conferring gra duation. Another female student attending the scien ce/technology magnet also questioned the necessity of the FCAT if SATs can be used in its stead. These students are members of the TBAH and may have come across this information through discussions with its staff, though that was not confirmed or denied in the interview process. The student quoted previously is also cri tical of the FCAT as a tool used by the state to assess Â– and often in the process, distress Â– student s for no discernible utilitarian purpose. One female studentÂ’s criticism of FCAT testing indicts the entire institution of American schooling in a process of denyi ng educational opportuni ties to students of color. This student, who attended the performi ng arts magnet, describes what she sees as the true intended purpose of sta ndardized tests like the FCAT. Â“African American people, and Hispanic people, do have literacy issues in America. Statistically, factually, we do have a problem comprehending, you know, even math. Have a proble m meeting the standard school systemÂ’s, you know, what they want us to meet. We have a problem with that. Um, I feel like itÂ’s a joke. I feel like theyÂ’re like, Â‘Ha Ha, youÂ’re really gonna let us test you. And you Â’re gonna take this test, and youÂ’re gonna fail it, and youÂ’re gonna be weeded out. And, youÂ’re gonna let us point out a problem that you have. You guys are the least performing.Â’ They do that, they come into the scho ol systems Â– itÂ’s the same thing as when they come into the lower, lower end neighborhoods and the school systems Â– they say, Â‘WeÂ’re not giving you money because you canÂ’t perform this well. WeÂ’re not paying your teachers this much, because they
85 canÂ’t teach you this much.Â’ But they have no, no facilitation process. They have no, no rehabilitation process. They have nothing. They wonÂ’t give you anything to bounce back from. They have, they have no commitment to filling up that gap.Â” Her assessment of the FCAT is connected to the larger f unction it performs, which is to determine the allo cation of resources to schools. The government uses the test to justify the denial of funding to schools serving higher proporti ons of Black and/or Latina/o students Â– who are typically alre ady performing below grade level Â– with no proactive commitment to improving achievement in these schools. This student criticizes this policy, which effectively punishes victims of poor educat ion rather than invests in improving their education. In July 2008 Florida was selected as one of six states to receive funding to better align the statewide school grading system with No Child Left BehindÂ’s system of determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (Florida Department of Education 2008a: 3). Among the many changes to school improvement procedures the state has implemented to increase achievement in the lowest performing schools, one mandate requires remedial education services for thes e schools. While previ ously the school could choose among multiple strategies for impr oving achievement, after-school or extended day remediation is the sole option for the lowest performing schools under the new plan (Florida Department of Education 2008a : 2). Thus, available funding for improving achievement in the lowest performing schools, allocated to Florida as a pilot grant through the U.S. Department of Education, is largely set as ide for remedial education. For example, previously Florida would require schools that were repeatedly graded as Â‘FÂ’
86 to Â“offer multiple strategies for struggling students, including but not limited to tutoring, credit recovery, and/or remediationÂ” (Flori da Department of Education 2008b: 2). Under the pilot program, schools must provide extended day or after school programs for remediation and enrichment (Florida Depart ment of Education 2008b: 2). HillsboroughÂ’s science/technology magnet high school is one of the thirteen school s statewide that has been identified as one of thes e lowest performing schools. In light of my initial expectations and the participantsÂ’ disappointment with the test, I was surprised that the number of st udents who found positive aspects of the FCAT was higher than the number of students who sa w no positive aspects (f our to three). Of the four students who cited positive aspects to the FCAT, one had pa ssed all parts in the first attempt. Two of these four students ha d not passed the reading section in the first attempt, and one did not pass the math section in the first attempt. Three of the four who cited positive aspects of the FCAT indicated th at it at least partially facilitated learning. One female student attending the medical/tec hnical academy said, in addition to receiving incentives for high scores, a positiv e outcome of the test is that: Â“You gain more knowledge, from u h, you know, the brain wanting to learn more, when you learn something, when you actually like it. You know, more reading comprehensi on and more just, understanding something better. Yeah, thatÂ’s that Â’s something you can gain, that I gained.Â” Students indicated as positive aspects of the FCAT: learning gains, assessment concerning what a student knows and what a student needs to study, an academic challenge, and practice for future testing. Despite the overwhelmi ngly negative opinion
87 of FCAT testing among all students, some s till saw positive aspects of the test, and they most often linked the positive aspects to indi vidual academic goals. Most importantly, the students were mainly critical of the impor tance of the test for graduation and its ascendancy over more relevant forms of asse ssment, like final exams and the SAT. As will be argued in the conclusion, this finding is an indication not only of studentsÂ’ acute awareness of institutional factor s that structure schooling, but also a rebuttal to arguments that characterize African Am erican students who are Â“failingÂ” (as determined by a standardized test) as wholly uninterested in learning. School Structure: Magnet Programs in Hillsborough County Though the focus of this research was not aimed at understanding the implications of Hillsborough CountyÂ’s magnet programs for student learning and other academic outcomes, some students connected magnet pr ograms to aspects of FCAT testing and graduation during the course of interviews. Because of this emergent trend, I began asking other students questions about whether or not they ch ose the school they attended based on its magnet program offe ring. Students varied as to what program Â– traditional or magnet Â– in which they participated at the science/technology and performing arts magnet schools. The three students interviewe d from the medical/technical academy all participated in the technical academy, with the medical component serving as a magnet program for that school. Magnet programs are m eant to attract students from all over the district to a particular sc hool, and different programs employ different application processes for admission. While any student co uld declare as a focus one of several technical programs in the medical/technical magnet, the medical magnet program requires an application and selection process.
88 One theme linked the three students who talked about the science/technology and performing arts magnet schools without questio ns related specifically to the magnet program. This theme was that there is a di vision between Â‘traditionalÂ’ and Â‘magnetÂ’ students in the ways teachers and administra tors treat the two groups. One former student who attended both magnet schools described them as such: Â“TheyÂ’re predominantly Black schools with a magnet component. Ther e is no difference between students in the magnet program and students that arenÂ’t.Â” Thes e students agree that there is no difference in intellect or ability between the groups, but that teachers and administrators perceptibly hold Â‘magnetÂ’ students in higher esteem than Â‘traditionalÂ’ students. When I asked about the general mood in school during the time the FCAT is being taken, one female student attending the performing arts magnet program explained: Student: Â“Um, I think it just depends on the students. My school is half magnet, half traditional. So the traditional kids tend to be a little more tense than us [magnet students]. But I wouldnÂ’t say that itÂ’s because um theyÂ’re not smart. I would say itÂ’s be cause they do kinda put an emphasis on the magnet kids. And the principal has made pretty clear statements that she favors the magnet student s over traditional students.Â” Researcher: Â“Wow. What kind of things does she say?Â” Student: Â“Um, sheÂ’ll say, sheÂ’s said things like in the meetings like, oh, Â‘the magnet students are like the back bone of the schoolÂ’ or, yeah, just things along that line.Â” Another female student attending the same program agreed with this assessment:
89 Â“My sister came in to do observation al hours for being a teacher, and the teachers are like, Â‘Oh, why do you wanna observe my regular class? DonÂ’t you wanna observe my AP class? Or my magnet class? I have a lot of magnet students in that class.Â’ Like th eyÂ’re the heaven of things, and the traditional students are hell. And theyÂ’re just what you have to get through to get to teaching the magnet students.Â” This student offered lengthy explanations and harsh critiques of th e differences between the ways Â‘traditionalÂ’ and Â‘magnetÂ’ stude nts are treated in school, including the differential opportunities such st udents are exposed to. She di scussed meetings the school calls for students to prepare them for the upcoming year: Â“They separate the meetings. They separate the magnet, cuz they say, Â‘YouÂ’re gonna have to take differe nt classes and youÂ’re gonna need to know about different things cuz youÂ’re gonna have differe nt schedules.Â’ I sort of understand that because we have to factor in like two dramas things Â– if you want a masterÂ’s certificat ion in whatever area weÂ’re studying before we get out of high school, we ha ve to have extra classes for that. I understand that. But they separate th ese meetings and then, you know, IÂ’m friends with traditional students, some magnet people are friends with traditional students. Most of the Black kids in magnet are gonna be friends with traditional students. So we, we Â’re talking, and theyÂ’re like, Â‘Dang, they ainÂ’t even tell us about that in our traditional,Â’ you know, Â‘meeting. They donÂ’t tell us about the AP course s, they donÂ’t tell us about the pre-
90 AP courses. They totally gear us towa rds prepping for the . work prep, pretty much,Â’ or whatever itÂ’s called.Â” This student explained that, t hough the school decides who is ab le to take AP courses due to their grade point average, Â‘traditionalÂ’ students with high grade point averages are not informed as to their eligibility for this higher quality coursework. Such coursework is preparation for post-se condary schooling. The male studentÂ’s description of thes e schools as Â“predominantly BlackÂ” with a magnet program built in is extremely important when considering the division between Â‘magnetÂ’ and Â‘traditionalÂ’ students. The fema le student who talked at length about the magnet program at her school expl ained the situation as such: Â“the majority of magnet students ar e White. ThatÂ’s just how it is, you know, thereÂ’s not too many Black studen ts in the magnet program, and the majority of traditional students ar e Black. I donÂ’t really know how many White students IÂ’ve met that are tradi tional over the past few years. Maybe five, but I couldnÂ’t name any of them. . one of them, sorry.Â” That Â‘magnetÂ’ and Â‘traditionalÂ’ students are segregated racially has incredible implications for Black studentsÂ’ access to hi gher level coursework throughout the county, as all high school magnet programs are embedde d within schools. Though not gathered as a part of this research study, information I have received from other sources Â– former students, parents, and current teachers at schools none of the students in this study attended Â– this segregation and curriculum tracking is replicated at other sites. The purpose and focus of this study does not allow me to ma ke generalizations concerning all Hillsborough Count y schools with magnet programs. However, this issue
91 warrants further study, given the nationwide use of magnet schools and magnet programs to 1.) desegregate schools and 2.) offer options for specialized and high quality coursework for all students with in a district. As described in chapter two of this thesis, the School District of Hillsborough Count y initiated magnet programs to improve education, offer school choice, and maintain a desegregated school system. Part of the agreement to expand magnet programs included a commitment to promoting higher nonWhite student enrollment in such programs. Determining the extent to which this commitment is being honored will rest in th e hands of those willing and able to conduct research concerning studentsÂ’ actual experiences within such schools. Statistical Analyses Descriptive and exploratory statistics using district-c ollected demographic and achievement data serves as means of unders tanding these qualitativ e findings within a district-wide context. The unit of analysis fo r these quantitative data is the school; there are twenty-five (n=25) schools analyzed in re gards to each demographic and achievement variable. Three demographic groups are anal yzed across schools: the entire school population, the Black student population, and the White student population. The Black student population and the White student populat ion are compared to the entire student population in two separate tables. The fo llowing achievement measures from the 2007 10th Grade Reading FCAT are summarized for each demographic group: total (test takers), percent passi ng, mean scale score, and percent at Levels 1-5. A student must achieve a mean scale score of 300 or above to be considered passing; this score corresponds to achievement Level 3. Level 1 re presents the lowest level of achievement and Level 5 represents the hi ghest level of achievement. It is important to note that
92 Hillsborough County serves a diverse populatio n of students identified as Hispanic, Asian, and Multiracial as well. These dem ographic groups are not included in this analysis because it is my aim to understand Black student achievement in relationship to all students in general and White students Â– the largest and mo st historically privileged demographic group in this c ontext Â– in particular. Table 1 displays the minimum, maximu m, mean, and standard deviation of selected FCAT achievement measures for Black students and for the total student population. Table 2 displays thes e same statistics for White students and for the total student population. Tables 1 and 2 reveal differences between Black student achievement and White student achievement, when both groups are compared independe ntly to the total student population. The mean percent passing for Black students is below 40%, while the minimum percent passing for White students is above 50%. The mean percentage of Black students at Level 1 is over 50%, while the mean percentage of Black students at Level 5 is under 3%. For White student s, these values are 22.16% and 19.36%, respectively.
93 Table 1 Descriptive Statistics: Achievement Measures for Black Students Compared to Total Enrollment, 10th-Grade Reading FCAT, 2007 Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation Total Enrollment 237 713 497.96 114.483 Total Black 17 293 106.48 68.802 Percent Passing Enrollment 36 76 54.48 12.217 Percent Passing Black 17 60 36.28 11.415 Mean Scale Score Enrollment 276 336 303.28 16.935 Mean Scale Score Black 253 309 278.60 15.540 Percent at Level 1 Enrollment 17 57 37.04 12.354 Percent at Level 1 Black 26 78 53.92 13.197 Percent at Level 2 Enrollment 18 39 27.60 5.132 Percent at Level 2 Black 18 49 29.32 7.658 Percent at Level 3 Enrollment 10 25 16.76 4.465 Percent at Level 3 Black 0 24 10.68 5.822 Percent at Level 4 Enrollment 3 13 6.88 2.635 Percent at Level 4 Black 0 12 3.08 2.581 Percent at Level 5 Enrollment 3 25 11.64 6.123 Percent at Level 5 Black 0 11 2.88 2.279
94 Table 2 Descriptive Statistics: Achievement Measures for White Students Compared to Total Enrollment, 10th-Grade Reading FCAT, 2007 Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation Total Enrollment 237 713 497.96 114.483 Total White 69 454 233.32 124.879 Percent Passing Enrollment 36 76 54.48 12.217 Percent Passing White 53 84 70.00 9.183 Mean Scale Score Enrollment 276 336 303.28 16.935 Mean Scale Score White 296 371 325.20 16.401 Percent at Level 1 Enrollment 17 57 37.04 12.354 Percent at Level 1 White 9 35 22.16 7.739 Percent at Level 2 Enrollment 18 39 27.60 5.132 Percent at Level 2 White 10 38 27.16 6.283 Percent at Level 3 Enrollment 10 25 16.76 4.465 Percent at Level 3 White 11 26 20.96 3.680 Percent at Level 4 Enrollment 3 13 6.88 2.635 Percent at Level 4 White 6 18 10.20 3.014 Percent at Level 5 Enrollment 3 25 11.64 6.123 Percent at Level 5 White 5 54 19.36 11.284
95 Whereas descriptive statistics give a ge neral summation of re levant statistical measures, a Principal Components Analysis e xplores variation in the data. Principal Components Analysis is used to reduce the am ount of variables into uncorrelated indices that measure different dimensions of data (Manly 2005: 75). This Principal Components Analysis includes all variables used in the de scriptive analyses except percent at Levels 2-4. Table 3 summarizes the eigenvalues and percent of variation explained for each principal component. Table 4 summarizes the positive and negative values for each variable within the first three components. Table 3 Principal Components Analysis : Total Variance Explained Component Initial Eigenvalues Total % of Variance Cumulative % 1 7.706 51.371 51.371 2 3.990 26.601 77.972 3 1.091 7.275 85.247 4 .956 6.376 91.623 5 .625 4.168 95.791 6 .253 1.685 97.475 7 .176 1.177 98.652 8 .074 .491 99.143 9 .059 .390 99.533 10 .028 .187 99.720 11 .019 .124 99.844 12 .011 .077 99.921 13 .008 .053 99.974 14 .002 .014 99.988 15 .002 .012 100.000 Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.
96 Table 4 Principal Components Anal ysis: Component Matrixa Component 1 2 3 Total Enrollment .605 -.081 .335 Total Black -.310 .721 -.319 Total White .707 -.322 .547 Percent Passing Enrollment .962 -.137 .076 Percent Passing Black .754 -.471 -.383 Percent Passing White .636 .708 -.151 Mean Scale Score Enrollment .957 -.031 .130 Mean Scale Score Black .809 -.436 -.339 Mean Scale Score White .523 .836 -.039 Percent at Level 1 Enrollment -.945 .216 -.036 Percent at Level 1 Black -.817 .411 .359 Percent at Level 1 White -.690 -.639 .157 Percent at Level 5 Enrollment .712 .514 .309 Percent at Level 5 Black .621 -.058 -.122 Percent at Level 5 White .273 .915 .060 Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis. a. 3 components extracted.
97 Principal Component #1 reveals a difference between schools with high percentages of students (Black, White, and to tal enrollment) at Level 1 and schools with high percentages of students (Black, White, and total enroll ment) passing, Black students and the total enrollment at Level 5, and hi gh total and White student enrollment. This component is best described as reflecting va riations in achievement and attendance, and this component explains approximately 51.4% of all variation. Principal Component #2 reveals a difference between schools with hi gh Black student enrollment and high White student achievement measures, on the one ha nd, and schools with a high percentage of White students at Level 1, on the other. Wh en understood within the context of the Hillsborough County School DistrictÂ’s method of student assignment, I label this component the Â“magnet school componentÂ” be cause it reflects variation in schools serving a large population of Black students while simultaneously producing high levels of White student achievement. Ma gnet schools in this district have been embedded within neighborhood schools in TampaÂ’s inner-city to attract and sustain White student enrollment, thus sustaining desegregation mandates. Figure #1 is a graph that plots each school in th e district along Principal Component #1 (x-axis) and Prin cipal Component #2 (y-axis). Th is graph reveals that all but one of the urban magnet schools (U.M.) have high positive values for Principal Component #2 Â– the Â“magnet school component .Â” The four schools with the highest positive values for the Â“magnet school componentÂ” are all urban magnet schools.
98 The descriptive statistics used in this anal ysis reveal that mean scores for different achievement variables differ from and reflect lower levels of achievement for Black students than those for all st udents and for White student s. The Principal Components Analysis, coupled with the qualitative data students provided through interviews, suggests that the school-within-a-school magne t structure in Hillsborough County offers White and Black students different and inequitable opportunities for high academic achievement in four of the five urban magnet schools.
99 CHAPTER SIX Conclusions and Recommendations Understanding African American studentsÂ’ experiences and perceptions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCA T) and high school graduation is important when considering new directions educational policy makers Â– from the federal government to local grassroots organizations Â– take in efforts to improve student academic outcomes. The Â“achievement gapÂ” between White and Asian students, on the one hand, and African American, Latino/a, and working-class students of all ethnicities, on the other hand, has become one of the most sa lient concerns of educators, researchers, and, increasingly, the general public since the early 1980s. However, it must first be understood that African American students Â– as well as Latino/a and working-class students of all ethnicities Â– have a variet y of experiences related to and affecting academic achievement that cannot be easily captured by the singular phrase Â“achievement gap.Â” Rather, as this study highl ights, elements of school policy and school structure, school climate and culture, and ev en the presentation of testing materials impacts achievement outcomes and prospects fo r graduation, oftentimes with significant consequences. The underlying purpose of this re search was to highlight the importance of studentsÂ’ experiences and opi nions when considering po licy initiatives aimed at improving academic achievement and intellectual development. For participants in this
100 study, opinions of the FCAT were rooted in their lived experiences, and those experiences were shaped by po licies that determined the in formation about the test and graduation they received from faculty and the very structure of schoo ling that determined who had access to which classes. This chapter offers conclusions drawn from the findings outlined in the previous chapter, recommendations for youth devel opment organizations like the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, and suggestions for future research. I begin by discussing the findings within the larger framework of education policy both in side and outside the school building. I will then provide a brief overvie w of the Tampa Bay Academy of HopeÂ’s efforts at discussing issues of the FCAT and graduation with their members. I offer recommendations for youth development organi zations aiming to facilitate successful navigation of the FCAT and graduation. Usi ng participantsÂ’ own recommendations for change as a guide, I will then offer sugge stions for opening spaces for dialogue and action surrounding the FCAT, graduation, and othe r pertinent educational issues. Finally, I will discuss avenues for future research on the issues raised in this thesis. Conclusions The three major conclusions I draw from this study can be understood as being in conversation with one another. In other wo rds, the conclusions presented here are intimately intertwined because they stem from educational policies and practices that structure the nature of high stak es testing in this district. Di fferences in FCAT preparation activities between students who did and did not pass one or more parts of the FCAT on the first attempt reflect the tracking of non-passers into Â“i ntensiveÂ” classes meant to reinforce test-taking strategi es. Students question the impor tance of FCAT testing when
101 final exams are required for passing each class and SAT or ACT are required for college/university admissions. Finally, administ rators and teachers do not systematically discuss the reasons for the FCAT, though they do discuss the importance of raising the schoolÂ’s overall grade. These three conclu sions stem from the importance placed on standardized testing at both the federal and st ate levels, as the FCAT is used to determine overall school grades Â– which are tied to funding Â– and individual studentsÂ’ opportunities for graduation. The major theme that emerged when part icipants discussed FCAT preparation, testing, and receipt of scores is the differences in experien ces students have in classes designated for test preparation and classes th at are a part of the regular or accelerated curriculum. Students who did not pass the read ing or math sections on the first attempt were required to take Â“intensiveÂ” readi ng or math classes the following year. These classes were scheduled in place of electiv es and prevented students from entering Advanced Placement or Honors courses for E nglish/Language Arts or math. Â“IntensiveÂ” classes focused on improving test-taking skills and strategies. For example, students in Â“intensiveÂ” reading classes discussed learning strategies for finding the main idea of a literature passage, scanning a passage for impor tant information, reading as much of a passage as possible in thr ee minutes, and proofreading. While these strategies are important to facilitating efficient reading, they are geared specifically for achieving on standard ized tests. Scholars doing ethnography in classrooms and schools scaffoldi ng learning based on such test-t aking skills have argued that such a narrow focus on one test sideli nes instruction in higher level, culturally relevant critical thinking skills (McNeil 2000; Valli and Chambliss 2007). Two students
102 in this study specifically commented on the ut ility of repeating such classes year after year. One female student attending the science/technology magne t school said that administrators did not want students to ta ke such Â“intensiveÂ” classes over and over. Another student, a male attending the perfor ming arts magnet school, said that he did not think it was necessary for an entire class to be devoted to such test-taking strategies. Despite this evidence that students, teachers, and administrators are not in wholesale agreement that these types of classes are e ffective and necessary, school policies continue to track students who do not in itially pass one or more sectio ns of the FCAT into these remedial classes. Another finding concerning test preparati on is the perception among students that math and writing test prepar ation is embedded in the curriculum of math and English/Language Arts classes. Students see the regular curriculum in these courses as dovetailing with FCAT testing, in terms of the types of sk ills students are expected to demonstrate through the test. The question remains, however, as to the logic in duplicating examinations on these skills. That is, when students were asked about their general opinion of the FCAT and what they would like to see cha nged, they pointed to final exams in every course and SAT/ACT te sting as more relevant tests of their knowledge than the FCAT. They asked why, if such tests are already instituted, one more test was needed to determine graduation. That students unanimously disliked FCAT testing was not surprising. What is more important is the extent to which thei r opinions of the FCAT were shaped by their comparisons of FCAT testing to the general cu rriculum already in place and the necessity of taking the SAT or ACT for applying to co llege. As critical anthropologists of
103 education argue, despite propone ntsÂ’ rhetoric that such tests are meant to increase achievement and decrease disparities in achie vement, high stakes exit exams effectively control who has access to higher level cour sework and opportunities for education beyond high school (Fine, et. al 2007; Vall i and Chambliss 2007; Salinas and Reidel 2007). Such exams, what Fine, et. al ca ll Â“subtractive public policyÂ” (2007: 77), exacerbate educational inequities for Afri can American, Latino/a, immigrant, and working-class youth. On a broader level, such exams are also a mechanism by which our culture defines and treats Â“failuresÂ” a nd Â“successesÂ” (McDermott and Varenne 2006). StudentsÂ’ questions regarding the necessity of the FCAT are not systematically answered by teachers and administrators, ad ults who work as the primary mediators between students and educational polic y. Even when students report asking administrators and teachers about the reasons for the FCAT, they do not satisfactorily answer these questions. All students reporte d that these faculty members discuss the importance of increasing the schoolÂ’s grad e (in the schools with low grades) or congratulate students for ma intaining high grades (in the high graded school). Encouragement to pass the test comes in the form of posters hung throughout the school, assemblies that promote FCAT passage, and material incentives for passing. Encouragement does not include systematic cr itical examination of testing and policies that require testing or widespread utilizati on of the provision within the district that allows the SAT or ACT to be taken in its stead. This lack of critical discussion concerni ng the FCAT is important because the test carries major consequences for studentsÂ’ cu rriculum choices. Two students in this study reported that students who perform poorly on the 9th-grade practice FCAT are funneled
104 into remedial Â“intensiveÂ” classes the follo wing year. Clearly, stude nts who do not pass a section of the test in the 10th-grade are tracked into such classes in the 11th-grade, and possibly beyond. Rather than discussing these implications or cha nging school practices to disallow such tracking, administrators seem to encourage FCAT testing without encouraging students to critically examine or navigate around the policies that place such emphasis on the test in the first place. As Gayles (2005) concludes after following high achieving African American males through their se nior years in high school, part of their strategy for success in school was adopting a utilitaria n perspective regarding achievement. In other words, the students Ga yles interviewed saw high achievement as a means for achieving their longer-term goals, not as an end in and of itself. Given the ongoing pattern of disinvestment in African American studentsÂ’ education embedded in the American system of schoo ling, administrators and teache rs in predominantly Black schools can stand at the vanguard of devel oping such a critical st ance toward schooling and education. The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope as a Youth Development Service The Tampa Bay Academy of Hope (TBAH) the organization for which I served as an intern during the cour se of this study, can be described as a youth development service. Broadly, such programs support Â“nor mal socialization and healthy development of young peopleÂ” (Bridglall 2005: 39). The TB AH is primarily focused on developing leadership skills in youth, but it serves as an organization to which members can turn for a variety of school and non-school related support. In the time I was there, youth and their parents participated in fundraising activ ities and social events, sought help with communicating with school offi cials regarding student promo tion, held meetings to plan
105 future events, and participated in casual di scussions concerning school and life. Some of these discussions touched on issues of the FC AT and graduation, primarily in regards to the successful navigation of a biased system of testing. That is, most discussions of the FCAT revolved around aspects of the test that schools concealed from the average student and parent. For example, I learned of a studentÂ’s ability to take the SAT in place of the FCAT during discussions program officers were having with students and parents. The TBAH takes a critical approach to addressing issues of the FCAT and graduation, as well as larger school polic ies and practices. They emphasized knowing school policies and how to acce ss school services, particularly for parents who need assistance in settling disputes with school officials or acc essing specific services. The approach taken by the TBAH positions academic achievement as one element of a holistic understanding of youth development, with other elements including behavior, community involvement, self-esteem, career deve lopment, and leadership. This approach to academic achievement also reflects an em phasis on practicality and working within the established system to reap the benefits of that system, the very orientation to schooling Gayles (2005) found in the high achieving Africa n American participants in his study. In regards to the FCAT in part icular, program officers were cogently aware of and spoke about the barriers to achievement on the test that disproportionate ly affected African American students. The program director inform ed me that most of the students involved with the program, if they did not pass one part of the test, did not pass the reading portion. At the time I was an intern with this organization, they we re proposing a summer program for older students to work with younger students on incr easing vocabulary and spelling skills.
106 The overall theme that emerged duri ng participant-observation with the TBAH was their emphasis on devel oping confident, skilled, poi sed, well-rounded youth through interactions with one another, program officials, and busin ess leaders in the community. One of the major events I attended during my internship was the Youth Leadership Conference, an event the Acad emy holds every year. This event serves several purposes. First, it allows for parents who do not have children in the program to learn about the types of events and services offered through the program. More importantly, however, the conference invites speakers from business and academic fields to inform students of opportunities they may want to pursue. On e speaker manages several McDonaldÂ’s franchise stores in the area and owns his own restaurant. He gave students tips for applying and interviewing for their first jobs and discussed his own career trajectory. The keynote speaker was April Griffin, one of seven members of the Hillsborough County School Board. She spoke about her own humble beginnings and the impact one teacher had on setting her in the direction fo r success. Though the TBAH focused on school success, their overall goal is to help st udents develop into healthy, successful, contributing members of thei r respective communities. Recommendations What Students Say I begin the section on recommendations with student recommendations for change for two reasons. First, the purpose of this research was to understand the FCAT and graduation from the perspective of the st udent, and any recommendations for improving studentsÂ’ experiences necessarily start from the ways students understand their
107 experiences. Second, studentsÂ’ voices are far t oo often left out of discussions of what change should look like, never mind their tota l absence in decisions about school policy. When I asked students about what they would change about the FCAT, answers ranged from elements of the test itself to lowe ring the passing score, from not linking it to graduation to replacing it with testing that already exists. These recommendations reflect student experiences with the FCAT as em bedded within larger school practices and policies, not so much the curriculum. In ot her words, for these students the FCAT is separate from the curriculum in the sense that it is treated as a separate, though incredibly important state test. Administrators and teach ers do not make it explicitly or implicitly apparent why such a test is necessary for actual student learning, but the implications the test has for graduation and the overall school grade is clear. Below is Table 5 which displays all but one of th e participantsÂ’ responses to the question of recommendations they had for im proving or changing the test. I offer these studentsÂ’ responses, first and foremost, to re -emphasize the idea of learning from what students tell us as a group and as individuals. Furthermore, the variety of responses attests to the heterogeneity of African Amer ican student populations in this and every community. Finally, the challenge we all face as researchers, educators, activists, and anyone else truly invested in improving educational opportun ities for African Americans is how to reverse the one-wa y trend of policy shaping expe riences rather than using studentsÂ’ experiences to infl uence policy. Students are too often considered objects of educational policy rather than subjects who engage with, th ink about, and act within the boundaries of educational policy in ways that influence their futu re trajectories. If policies are meant to improve academic outcome s, the experiences students have and the
108 opinions they form from those experiences should be cogently understood to determine the extent to which those policies are accomplishing their stated goals.
109 Table 5 StudentsÂ’ Suggestions for Ch anging or Improving the FCAT Changing Elements of the TestÂ’s Content Â“If I could change it, um . I would probably not put as much poetry. Because most students at school, we donÂ’t like really like read a lot of poetry, we donÂ’t really have a lot of poetry classes or anything like that. I would just take the poetry out of the reading portionÂ” (male student attending performing arts magnet). Â“Colors. Colors. Not black and white, I donÂ’t like black and white. A lot of more people would pass it with picturesÂ” (male student a ttending medical/technical academy). Student: Â“what weÂ’re reading. What it, what are we actually reading. If we donÂ’t understand, first of all, what it, what is a manatee. We probably donÂ’t know what it is. But weÂ’re in Florida, most people do know. Why do we wanna learn about it? Its an an imal, its not a regular animal that everybody else have. ItÂ’s in the sea, off doing itÂ’s own thing.Â” Researcher: Â“So you think the reading selections . .Â” Student: Â“Yeah, the reading selections, more interesting. Uh, the multiple choice part shouldnÂ’t be so, some of the answers look like theyÂ’re basically the same, so they kinda trick you. And then, on the poems and stuff, like, not so, the poems shouldnÂ’t be so, just youÂ’re sitting there trying to take your time reading it cuz you donÂ’t understand. And you can read it over several different times, but you still donÂ’t understand it. Cuz itÂ’s just so out th ereÂ” (female student attending medical/technical academy). Replacing the Test Â“Not taking it. Changing, instead of making FCAT required, changing it for our end of exams, and you just do good on your examsÂ” (female student attending medical/technical academy). Â“I donÂ’t think you should have to take it at all. They can give you another test. You have to take [final] exams in every class. Instead of taking a big exam when only two parts of it count, you should just have to take final examsÂ” (female student attending science/technology magnet). Reducing the Requirements for Passage Â“Lower the score, the passing score. They should be lenient, like, if they were two points away or somethingÂ” (male graduate of performing arts magnet, also attended science/technology magnet). Improving Test Preparation Â“It would be that, um, preparation is um would be more efficient and it would be more detailed. And that we would take practice tests if they wanted to make it like that. At least, um, for the main subjects which would be reading and math. . Ju st that, at least the head of the whichever department, whether it be English or math, should kinda come up with a uniform practice test of the FCAT. That should be taken every week, at least, or every other week until they actually take the FCATÂ” (female student attending performing arts magnet).
110 It is clear from these responses that, t hough students have different ideas about what should be done concerning the FCAT, something needs to be done differently. These responses also suggest that students ar e thinking about changes or improvements to the test in terms of th eir experiences with tes ting, test preparation, receiving of scores, or other elements of the curriculum. The experi ences they have in regards to testing and graduation inform the knowledge base they develop concerning education in general. None of the students are opposing assessment in their recommendations. Rather, they are suggesting that the test (or, in the last case, the curriculum) should be more reflective of their experiences as test-takers and as students. Linking Grassroots Organizing to Student Experiences Grassroots youth development services are poised to offer more spaces for dialogue and develop programs to make even more apparent the connection between studentsÂ’ experiences and the ways these experiences impact overall education. The research conducted for this th esis revealed that schools do not structure opportunities for students to discuss the reasons for the FCAT or the place the FCAT occupies within the overall curriculum. My recommendation for grassroots organizations that are geared toward developing critical awareness of edu cational issues affecting African American students is to create opportuni ties for young people to gather and discuss these issues in an open, yet structured, environment. Such an environment should be open in the sense that youth can discuss their ex periences with the knowledge th at their experiences will be valued and validated as they are, not as someone else thinks they should be. This environment should be structured in the sens e that those organizing the sessions would act as facilitators of discussion and purve yors of information when it is requested. If
111 participants become interested in activism or advocacy, session organizers could provide assistance in developing and implemen ting such an action plan. As discussed previously, the students in this study recommended that assessments should take into considerati on their experiences as test -takers and should be more relevant to the curriculum they already ar e expected to master. It is through asking students about their experiences that this in formation is revealed. The extent to which these same sentiments are repeated can be determined by systematically examining studentsÂ’ opinions and experi ences. This systematic exam ination, however, requires a willingness on the part of researchers (i.e. pe ople who are interested in systematically examining studentsÂ’ opinions and experiences, not just professionals) to embark on such a project and policy-makers to accept the resu lts thereof. The nature of this systematic examination remains to be determined. For example, a randomly-selected, representative sample as small as thirty individuals is enough to determine statistical significance through hypothesis testing, as long as that sample meets the additional statistical assumptions warranted by the statistical pr ocedure being used. However, the rules for determining a quantity and Â“qualityÂ” of individua ls participating in a study that would be acceptable and acted upon by educational pol icy-makers are much less clear. My opinion is aligned with those of the part icipants of this study, that a change to high-stakes testing is necessa ry and long overdue. The exact nature of that change Â– which would stem from the nature of ac tivism surrounding the issue Â– should closely reflect what students think, feel and know about the test and it s relationship to the larger curriculum.
112 Suggestions for Future Research One question this research uncovered was the extent to which students are segregated by race within magnet schools, a type of segregation instigated through methods of academic tracking. Some partic ipants in this study indicated that administrators and teachers hold magnet or advanced placement students in higher esteem than students tracked into the regular curriculum. Other participants indicated that the ninth-grade FCAT determined whether or not a student would be placed in remedial classes for the tenth-grade year, thus impeding that studentÂ’s ability to pursue higher level coursework. These two situations call for grea ter investigation into the ways students are admitted to or barred from certain classes, the nature of instruction in these different classes, and the implications academic trac king has for future educational opportunities. Of increasing concern is the extent to which standardized testing, a ubiquitous practice across the nation, reinforces such a dual system of education. While there are researchers who have pursued this and related t opics (i.e. Bush et. al 2004; McNeil 2000; Valli and Chambliss 2007) more research needs to be done concerning the connections among standardized testing, magnet programs, academic tracking, and African American students to be tter develop methods for preventing such a situation. These researchers have revealed that less experien ced teachers are often placed in remedial classes (McNeil 2000), and that, even when experienced teachers are teaching remedial classes, their teach ing style differs drastically (Valli and Chambliss 2007). To what extent is this situation occurrin g in Hillsborough CountyÂ’s magnet schools, and what can be done to develop a more equita ble system of providing all students with opportunities at advanced coursework? These qu estions are crucial to any discussion of
113 educational justice, as they challenge researchers, educators, and policy makers to scrutinize the extent to which offering equal access has also offered equitable opportunities for education.
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122 APPENDIX A Definitions for Different Types of Diplomas Standard Diploma, Special Dipl oma, Certificate of Comletion Definitions for Standard Diploma and Sp ecial Diploma were found on the Florida Department of Education Website, at: https://www.fldoe.org/eias/dat aweb/database_0809/st80_1.pdf Standard Diploma : Diploma awarded to students who have earned passing scores on the state approved graduation test, successfully completed th e minimum number of academic credits as identified in Section 1003.43, F.S. or Section 1003.428, F.S., achieved a cumulative grade point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale, and successfully completed any other requirements prescribed by the st ate or the local school board. Special Diploma: Diploma awarded to students who have been properly identified as educable mentally handicapped, trainable mentally handicappe d, profoundly mentally handicapped, deaf or hard-of-hearing, specific learning disabled, emotional/behavioral disabled, orthopedically
123 impaired, dual sensory impaired, other health impaired, traumatic brain injury, autism spectrum disorder, or language impaired. The definition of a Certificat e of Completion was found at: http://fcat.fldoe.org/ pdf/fc_exit_options.pdf Certificate of Completion as an Exit Option: Students who have completed the requir ed coursework for graduation but have not earned passing scores on the FCAT or have not achieved a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 are eligible to receive a certificate of co mpletion. The certificate of completion does not carry any of the privileges of a standard high school diploma. These students should be encouraged to particip ate in summer school, return for continued education during the following school year, or enroll in a GED preparation program through an adult education program.
124 APPENDIX B Student Interview Protocol Student Interview Questions This interview is designed to unders tand student experiences and thoughts concerning the tenth-grade FCAT and high school graduation. The 6 aspects these questions particularly explore are: FCAT preparation, FCAT testing, FCAT scores, student experiences and opinions, teacher/administrator encouragement, and teacher/administrator encouragemen t and graduation. Students will sign a consent form prior to the interview, whic h will also include a section that asks about background information (age, gende r, racial/ethnic identity, school, and month/year the tenth-gr ade FCAT was taken). FCAT Preparation 1.) What kinds of activities, exercise s, or assignments do you do in class to prepare for the FCAT? 2.) Do you think your school (i.e. teachers and administrators at your school) does all it can to help students pass the FCAT? Why or why not? FCAT Testing 3.) What is the general mood in school the week the FCAT is being taken? 4.) How many hours of the day do you spe nd each day during the week you are taking the test? 5.) Did you feel nervous when you took the FCAT or any parts of it? 6.) Do you feel you were well prepared wh ile you were taking the test? Why or why not?
125 FCAT Scores 7.) About how long after the te st did you find out your score? 8.) Did you get the score you wanted? Did you get the score you expected? (probe) Why do you think that is? Your Experience/Opinion 9.) What is your opinion of the FCAT? (probe) Are there positive aspects of the FCAT? Are there negative aspects of the FCAT? 10.) If there was anything you could cha nge or improve about the FCAT, what would it be? 11.) In your experience, how does the FCAT affect graduation for students at your school? Teacher/Administrator Encouragement 12.) Do administrators, counselors, or te achers say anything about the reasons for the FCAT? Who are these peopl e and what do they say? Do you agree with them? 13.) Do administrators, counselors, or teachers say anythi ng about your schoolÂ’s A+/NCLB grade or rating? (If yes) what do (each of the types of educational professionals) say? (If applicable) do you agree? Teacher/Administrator En couragement and Graduation 14.) Do administrators, counselors, or teachers say anythi ng about graduation rates at your school? (If yes) what do (each type of educator) say? (If applicable) do you agree? 15.) Do administrators, counselors, or te achers talk to you or your peers about different diploma options? (If yes) what do (each type of educator) say? (If applicable) do you agree? (If no) Are you aware that there are different type s of diplomas? (If yes) How did you learn about these different types of diplomas? (if no, explain different types)