Serving Metropolitan Detroit Since 1944

Black Educator Strives to Improve Learning

Professor Veda Jairrels believes African American students must read more to improve performance on achievement exams and prepare them for the fields of mathematics, science, medicine, business and other disciplines.

Jaireels's book entitled, African Americans and Standardized Tests: The Real Reason for Low Test Scores, is a blueprint for parents to enhance the learning and comprehension skills of their children so they can better compete in an increasingly high-tech world. The book is primarily addressed to parents to empower them to increase the academic capabilities of their children regardless of the quality of the schools they are attending. This is important because the education process tends to rely on someone (whether teachers, administrators or politicians) to make a positive impact and she is convinced that involved parents can greatly improve the education level of their children and narrow the achievement gap.

It is a gap that, judging by some studies, is staggering. According to information from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Black fourth graders scored approximately 27 points lower than Whites on a 0 to 500 scale in some years. And nationally, Black twelfth graders read at significantly lower levels than Whites in the same grade. There are similar discrepancies in math scores between Black, White, and Asian students, although there are many educators and critics who doubt the accuracy of the scores.

"There are basic things that I want parents to do," said Jairrels. "I want them to start reading to their children everyday beginning at birth. Research indicates that infants and toddlers need to hear 30,000 words per day between birth and age three. And children that hear these words have higher I.Q. scores and standardized test scores. It is crucial that African American parents participate in this. Also, I want children to read at least 30 minutes every day. The point I'm making and trying to relay to parents is that the reading that is done in school is not enough. We must supplement and compliment that with reading at home."

Jairrels also believes it is very important that educators, church groups, community organizations and concerned citizens become more involved in helping children to learn.

She warns that literacy levels of African American children should not be viewed in a vacuum but within the historical context of social habits that have been passed down for generations and aggravated by economic and racial inequities and injustices. And as a result of this dire legacy, many African Americans grow up without ready access to good schools or books or reading materials resulting in African American parents reading far less to their children than they should. Moreover, although standardized tests are used to expose flaws in school curriculums and for teaching evaluations, the results can have a positive effect on students that are considered successful and be devastating to students that are marginalized or rejected. According to professor Jairrels, this process can have the reverberating effect of some students dropping out of school, and result in African Americans being stuck in low wage, dead-in jobs, and ensnared on the slippery social/economic slope that leads to prison or worse.

Yet, professor Jairrels is optimistic that if her recommendations are followed and utilized, African Americans will see improvements in many areas of their lives.

"For the children that perform the reading exercises, I expect them to do much better on their tests," said Jairrels. "And I expect them to do much better in school, I expect that they will be well-rounded citizens. I expect them not to become victims of the criminal justice system. I am looking for better outcomes in life for those children. I think that the lack of literacy plays a role in criminal activity. I'm not saying that it is completely at fault, I'm sure there are other factors; but low literacy levels don't help. If we increase those literacy levels our children will have more avenues open up to them for success."

Steven Malik Shelton can be reached at [email protected]


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