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The achievement gap begins at Ground Zero

Opinion: Letters to the editor

February 19th, 2019 3:48 PM

 Recent articles in this newspaper have addressed the complicated issue of test scores as a measure of school success and student achievement in local high schools and grammar schools. I have been in early childhood education since 1970. For the past 10 years I have worked with home visitors and families emphasizing the importance of bonding with books and as a Developmental Therapist and Evaluator in the 0 to 3 Early Intervention System. During the past three years I have conducted research and observed in many classrooms from preschool to 3rd grade in the public and charter school system throughout Chicago, Cook County and Peoria County. Some research studies have focused on the classroom environment with an emphasis on social emotional development and the relationship between the children and the teacher. In one study we looked at how the children focused and incorporated information that the teacher/curriculum was imparting. As a society, policy makers have emphasized test scores rather than the child's mental health and social emotional development. However, research studies demonstrate that the environment and the family that surrounds the child is the most important factor in a child developing cognitively, linguistically, socially, emotionally and physically. The first three years are the most important years to develop these skills. I have observed infants, toddler and two year olds watching excessive amounts of television and playing on I-Pads or battery operated toys. There are childcare and preschools that keep children sitting rather than allowing them to play and interact with materials, peers and adults in their environment. These are passive activities and do not allow children to interact with materials, books or engage in conversations. There are a multitude of experiences that influence health and well-being throughout the lifespan. Some of the effects include disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, adoption of health-risk behavior, disease, disability and social problems. Before we rely on test scores as a measure of the schools ability to produce "results", we need to look at the experiences that have affected the child's development. I have observed excellent teachers and schools with wonderful supportive and enriching environments but only about a quarter to a third of the children are achieving at grade level in third grade. We need to look at poverty, domestic violence, violence in the neighborhood, physical or sexual abuse, alcoholism, emotional abuse and drug addiction in the family and how they are affecting our children. Agencies such as Catholic Charities, New Moms and PLCCA are funded to provide Home Visiting and Early Head Start programs that provide support to families to ameliorate these conditions. We need to look at where children are coming from and provide care and curriculum that emphasize the social and emotional needs of children birth to three, preschool, elementary school and high school. We need to support families in the early years, economically and socially. Children do not enter high school in a vacuum. 

Leah Shapiro, 

Resident and M.Ed