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Committee Aims to Narrow Achievement Gap

Loudoun County parent Herbert Bryan finds the achievement gap between minority and white students to be “disturbing.”

A higher number of minority students attending the county’s 52 schools score lower on standardized tests, attend special education classes and are suspended from school than white students, according to data provided by the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC) of which Bryan is a member. The data show, for example, that third-grade black and Hispanic students who took the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in 2001 had a 60-65 percent passing rate, with about 50 percent of black students passing the reading and writing test. The district aims for an 80 percent passage rate for minority students, which make up 24.2 percent of the student population, including 8.3 percent Hispanic, 8.6 percent black, 7 percent Asian and less than 1 percent American Indian students.

“From this data, it is evident that not only are many minority students failing the required tests but the LCPS community is failing to meet the needs of these students,” said Bryan, MSAAC representative at the June 25 School Board meeting. MSAAC is a loosely formed committee of about 14 parent volunteers and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that is expected to be formalized during the 2002-03 school year, likely with participation from schools in the six high school clusters. As with other LCPS committees, the MSAAC will elect a chairperson from the membership and identify a program of activities and discussion topics for the year.

“We do have a problem. A disproportionate number of children don’t score well … across the board but especially at the high school,” said School Board member Warren Geurin (Sterling), a board representative for MSAAC, along with Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge). “The high schools in Loudoun County are not doing a very good job educating minority students. There’s not much else you can say about it,” Geurin said.

MEMBERS OF MSAAC, along with school staff and School Board members, worked on a report during the 2001-02 school year to identify causes for the gap in student achievement. The committee met on a monthly basis to review student data from 2001 and to review information from central office and school-level staff. But the time span for the report was too small, according to School Board member Thomas Reed (At Large).

“The greatest problem I had with the numbers they submitted, it’s a snapshot,” Reed said. “What it didn’t tell us is, are we getting better or worse? There is no prior data to compare to.”

The MSAAC report concluded with five initiatives aimed to eliminate the disparity between racial and ethnic groups and by 2006 to achieve an 80 percent minority student pass rate on standardized tests of student achievement, also a School Board goal. Each initiative includes a proposed plan for implementation and recommended use of school resources.

“The school system will engage in serious efforts to close the achievement gap,” said Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent of instruction.

The MSAAC recommended the School Board authorize a trial implementation of the initiatives for the 2002-03 school year. The initiatives suggest:

* Schools establish transition teams for students rising to a new school level identified as being unsuccessful in school or at risk for failure. The transition team will work toward ensuring assessment, planning, counseling and instruction for those students.

* The assistant superintendent of instruction establish assessment and assistance teams to analyze student needs and organize assistance to schools with disparity in minority student test scores or other minority-related issues.

* The district provide more comprehensive faculty training on “cultural competency.”

* The district establish a formal process for relaying survey and other types of data to staff of involved schools, the MSAAC committee and the School Board. A joint review would follow to develop programs and provide needed assistance to minority students.

* The staff is provided with materials and programs that enhance assessment, instruction and training addressing disparity in student achievement.

“This is a national issue,” said School Board member John Andrews (Broad Run) after Herbert gave the MSAAC report. “Here in Loudoun County, we have an opportunity to succeed and become something.”

STAFF WILL REVIEW the MSAAC’s recommendations outlined in the report and provide the School Board with a proposed plan for implementation at a later date.

Superintendent Edgar Hatrick said the School District does not “welcome” using statistical manipulations to solve the achievement gap problem. “This is about real effort,” he said, adding that minority students who are achieving can be a resource to identify what helps them succeed. “They may hold the key we haven’t been able to tap.”

Another key may be for schools to exchange ideas about what does and does not work to help minority students achieve in their schoolwork,” Reed said. “Many minority students were identified as special needs,” he said. “I was surprised by that. I didn’t expect to see something like that knowing the involvement of our staff. I would expect our minority staff members would be very sensitive to these kind of issues.”