Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2012

Achievement gaps persist in Lawrence schools

September 20, 2012


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McEwen board presentation ( .PDF )

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Assessment results trends ( .PDF )

Achievement gaps exist in the Lawrence school district, on assessments and in graduation rates. There’s a gap between white students and minority students, between students with individualized education programs and those not classified as having disabilities. There’s a gap between native and non-native speakers of English and for those kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In short, on paper at least, minority, special-needs and socioeconomically disadvantaged children continue to fall behind.

And for some groups, the gap is wide. In data from last year, the graduation rate as an average of all the district’s students is 82.8. For students who self-identified as multiracial, it’s 47.6 percent, down from 56.3 percent in 2010.

As another example, the average score in the measures of academic progress tests for all population groups in eighth-grade math last year were above the national norm, but the average score for black students was 11 points lower than that for white students. In reading assessments in particular, students who qualify for financial aid score lower than both the national average and the all-school average. Students with disabilities score even lower — as much as 18 percent lower last year.

But the numbers can also be deceiving.

Terry McEwen, division director for assessment, research, grants and school improvement with the district, presented a series of graphs, charts and figures to the school board in a recent goal-setting meeting. The graphs show the gaps as separation between lines — achievement goes up over the years for all students, but the distance between lines representing averages and minority groups isn’t closing. Still, McEwen told the board, the numbers come with a lot of caveats.

Graduation rates, for example, are affected by students simply moving away. If a student transfers to an unaccredited school after ninth grade, such as Bishop Seabury Academy, or if the school can’t prove that the now-gone student went to an accredited school — one student recently, McEwen said in an interview, had moved to Sweden — that student is counted as a “dropout” according to national school statistics rules. So even if everyone in 12th grade graduates, it’s still difficult to obtain a 100 percent graduation rate.

Still, McEwen doesn’t deny that achievement gaps exist. But he does say that the overall trend is improvement for all students — and that the answer is not to “lower the bar to lower the gap.”

McEwen said that the assessments that determine the gaps are point-in-time and don’t always reflect real academic progress. The district’s goals are to address individual needs and to close gaps, though McEwen also says he’s hopeful a new set of assessments brought in with the Common Core in 2014 will help reflect yearlong growth in all students.

“All students can learn, but not in the same way or at the same rate,” he said. “Our district goals include meeting individual needs.”

Achievement gaps in assessments, by the numbers

• 5: The number of ethnic and racial groups a student could self-report into for assessment purposes — African-American, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian or white. A guardian fills out a form at enrollment that determines this classification. If more than one box is checked, the student is reported as multiracial. One thing that can make tracking achievement by race difficult — and thus, whether gaps are closing — is that the self-reporting can lead to changes over the years in the same student’s designation, McEwen said.

• 72.6 percent: The number of students with disabilities who met standards in last year’s Kansas reading assessment. That’s compared with the average for all students, 90.8 percent (above the national target of 86 percent). In 2008, 64.3 percent of students with disabilities and 85.2 percent of all students met standards. The trend shows that all students are improving, but the gap between those with and without IEPs persist. To qualify in the disabled category, a student can have a learning difficulty, physical disability or any number of combinations of the two, McEwen said.


Robert Rauktis 5 years, 9 months ago

— African-American, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian or white: Can you sign up for "non-of-the-above" or "other" if you don't trust the veracity of your grandparents?

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 9 months ago

I wish you would not use terms like IEPs - there is no definition of IEP anywhere in the article. For the average reader, this turns him or her off - the article is already very dull to begin with (and this doesn't reflect your reporting, which is often very good).

Especially, the difference between English and non-English speaking students is vast - the non-English speaker has much more to deal with, to "catch up" with English speaking students.

50YearResident 5 years, 9 months ago

"Sports" is the problem. We have switched from getting a good education to teaching the kids sports. Just look at the new city budget. More sports, more playing fields, more events to send the kids to and a $30 million new sports complex. Somewhere in the mix education is getting lost. Why become educated if you can earn $10 million each year playing some sports? Does anyone else see a problem here?

KSManimal 5 years, 9 months ago

The city budget and the school district budget are two separate things, established by two separate governing bodies, and funded from separate tax revenues.

meatheadwisdom 5 years, 9 months ago

To the contrary, 50YearResident, "Sports" and other extra-curricular activities are part of the solution. There is vast evidence that shows students who are involved in athletics, clubs, organizations, etc. are more engaged and have better test scores and grades than those who don't. I'm not just talking sports either, but debate, forensics, plays, clubs, music, art, etc. I can promise you that without sports and other similar activities you would see graduation rates, grades, and test scores plummet. Like it or not, there are some kids whose entire motiviation is to be on a team, but with that comes the requirement of specific curricular advancement, gpa, attendence, etc.

Yes SOME athletes can make $10 million a year, but the odds of how many are right there with winning the lottery.

chootspa 5 years, 9 months ago

Odds of participation and utilization of these extracurricular services go up if you're not a member of the at-risk groups, though. Low SES students tend not to have transportation or funding for uniforms or special equipment. Disabled students are often just excluded from those activities.

I'm not arguing that they should be ended. I'm just pointing out that they primarily benefit the kids that aren't the most at risk. Let's look at extracurricular activities that are more inclusive.

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

Music, art and non-sport extracurricular activities are also often the first things cut when budgets are tight. Sports rarely suffer the same fate.

meatheadwisdom 5 years, 9 months ago

You'd be suprised how much support is available to students who are low SES. Activity fees are waived for students that can't pay them, money and equipment is made available through donation for kids needing it. You're right, there are other factors that low SES can contribute to this, like transportation, or the need for a student to either work or watch siblings at home, and a lot of people are not aware of the assistance available, but the Lawrence District is working to make things more equitable for all students. It's not an easy task.

Clickker 5 years, 9 months ago

Honestly, throwing money at the problem ( or redirecting from Sports and Activities) has been shown time and again to be ineffective. Two parent households and some ( even minimal) parental involvement in academics has been shown to be the only reliable achievment booster over time.

meatheadwisdom 5 years, 9 months ago

You're right, "Throwing" money never solved anything, but well planned, strategic placement of dollars can and does. You are also right, students coming from stable, 2 parent households do have a leg up on the rest, but it's not the ONLY answer, and if it is, heaven help our society. Look into "90-90-90" schools. There are schools with 90% low ses, 90% non-white students, that have achieved 90% graduation rates. Things can and have been done.

chootspa 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes. If you put a pile of money next to a child, the child will not learn from it. However, using the money for things like high-quality preschool and well-funded early intervention services have been shown time and time again to improve outcomes. There are ways to effectively spend money to reduce the problem, and cutting funding will most certainly exacerbate it. Go spend a week in a 60 student, mostly English learner grade school if you don't believe me.

But back to your original (false) assertion that two parent families are the only achievement booster. So do you suggest we force parents to stay in bad relationships or we simply write off the children of single parent households as lost causes? How do you see this doing anything at all for disabled students, many of whom come from two parent households?

5 years, 9 months ago

please don't use stock photos, doesn't the LJ world have a big enough catalog of actual lawrence school photos to use?

valgrlku 5 years, 9 months ago

Has there been any change in graduation rates between when the district offered the alternative high school (a wonderful environment/chance for those who needed it) and the years since it has been closed?

time2kill 5 years, 9 months ago

How DARE able-bodied, intelligent, "advantaged" children continue to outperform their less fortunate counterparts? All children must be able to run a 47-minute mile and read "Run Spot Run" by the time they graduate high school. And NOT ONE IOTA MORE. That's only fair. Now we just need to convince the rest of the world that a race to the bottom is in their best interests... Wouldn't it be easier if we just stopped measuring the effectiveness of education altogether?

firebird27 5 years, 9 months ago

Undoubtedly there is more that can be done to improve our schools, but this differential in performance has been research. Controlling for household income, there remains academic performance differences between non-whites and whites, the latter group having the highest performance levels. However, Asian-American households perform at a higher level than all groups.

The gap problems have more to with the cultural circumstances people come from more from the culture of these groups than from the schools. For example, over 30% of all students admitted into Ivy League schools are Jewish. In California, the Univ. of California - Berkeley limits the number of Asian applicants to ensure that other minority groups, and perhaps even whites, gain a proportional admittance.

So when looking at the lack of student performance by certain non-white groups, I think the real question is: What is it about the culture of these non-white groups (beyond traditional prejudice) that reproduces these results in low performance? I stress looking beyond prejudice because Asian-Americans, just as other non-white groups, have certainly experienced prejudice in this nation.

Tara Painter 5 years, 9 months ago

Maybe it's all the budget cuts you keeping doing to the school not our kids, 20 years ago we had happy teachers and supplies our kids need. You post one year how now days they hardly spend anytime learning handwriting. I'm not even 30 yet and you turned the whole school system upside. Stop pointing the finger at the race and the kids it self and look at what you have taken away and changed. When I was in school there was no early dismiss day, Thats a 1 1/2 a week, 6 hours a month. Thats 60 hours a school year lost. Kids don't want to learn if you don't make it fun, one field trip is year and most of the time staying in Lawrence is not enough. I feel sorry for our kids we give them less, and everyone seems to blame someone for the lack of scores in learning. You take things away and this is what happens!

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