Assessment scores reveal continued racial achievement gap; Lawrence district leaders plan to hold principals accountable

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis and administrative staffers told the Lawrence school board Monday that the district is looking to improve the performance of minority students by holding principals accountable to be instructional leaders and through the use of data to identify where students are struggling.

That discussion came after Terry McEwen, district director of assessment, research and accountability, shared results from 2018 state assessments district students took in the spring. He said the results showed that larger numbers of district students exceeded college- or career-level readiness for their grade levels, but that there remains an achievement gap between the scores posted by white and Asian students and those of black, Hispanic, Native American and multiracial students.

McEwen shared results of last spring assessment tests in math, English language arts and science. Assessment results are split into four performance categories: level 1, of below grade-level expectations; level 2, at grade level performance but not on track for college or career readiness; level 3, on track for college and career readiness; and level 4, exceeding grade-level expectations.

In his report, McEwen looked at the percentages of district students who performed at levels 3 and 4. Overall, the results revealed that 38 percent of all district students performed at levels 3 or 4 in math, 45.4 percent in English language arts and 47.5 percent in science. Those scores matched or exceeded those achieved statewide, McEwen said, although the 2018 state assessment results he had access to weren’t shared at the meeting because the Kansas State Department of Education had not yet released statewide scores. The state would release those scores Tuesday, he said.

Although district minority students tended to do better on the tests than their peers statewide, with the exception of Native American students, McEwen acknowledged there were wide gaps in the scores of racial groups other than Asians and those of district white students.

In math, 43.4 percent of white students performed at levels 3 or 4, compared to 54.7 percent of Asians, 17.4 percent of blacks, 21.6 percent of Hispanics, 17.3 percent of Native Americans and 30.3 percent of multiracial students. English language arts results were similar, with 43.4 percent of white students recording scores of levels 3 or 4, compared to 54.2 percent of Asians, 17.4 percent of blacks, 21.6 percent of Hispanics, 17.3 percent of Native Americans and 30.3 percent of multiracial students. Fifty-seven percent of white students performed at levels 3 or 4 in science; 30.5 percent of black students, 27.8 percent of Hispanics, 57.4 percent of Asians, 20.9 percent of Native Americans and 35.1 percent of multiracial students attained those levels.

In a report of the district’s Kansas Education System Accreditation process, Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent of leading, learning and technology, said elements of the ongoing district- and building-level improvement plans were designed to address the achievement gaps. This year, the district’s goal is to improve relationships through engagements with students, school families and community members in ways that provide them input in district decision-making. Lewis’ ongoing six-stop listening tour is part of that effort, she said.

The district will also address relevance through the alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment, she said.

Darcy Kraus, district elementary school director, and Rich Henry, secondary school director, said principals of all district schools developed improvement plans for their buildings with equity in mind. The plans were specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound.

In a change Lewis instituted, Kraus and Henry said they were spending at least half their time visiting their schools. A goal of those visits is developing principals to be instructional leaders in their schools. The visits include school walkthroughs with principals and immediate discussion of what was witnessed in classrooms and what improvements could be made, they said.

Board members Jill Fincher and Kelly Jones welcomed the accountability and rigor of the new approach. The assessment scores of some minorities are so low the district should be able to see measurable progress, Jones said.

“I want to hold people accountable,” she said. “I want to see evidence we are taking action.”

Another approach to the school-improvement process was a “laser-like focus” on the application of data from the state assessments and other testing tools, Lewis said. Data could identify what and why classrooms, groups and even individuals were struggling, he said. He gave an example of a student having trouble on an assessment test’s requirement to read and demonstrate understanding of a passage. Such a test result would reveal the need to back up and work with the student on fluency and comprehension, he said.

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