Data on income, racial disparities helping to shape Lawrence schools’ strategic plan
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
If you’re a Lawrence eighth-grader, your race and your family’s income level could be closely correlated with your math scores on state assessments, state data shows.
State tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 4. One means a student doesn’t meet grade-level expectations; 2 is grade-level proficient; 3 is above average; 4 is on track to college- and career-readiness.
In eighth-grade math scores, historically marginalized populations and students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches because of their families’ income levels show stark disparities next to their peers.
For instance, 96.4 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students, and 90.3 percent of students with low socio-economic status, scored 1 or 2 in 2018, meaning less than 10 percent of those groups achieved better than average or exceptional scores. Comparatively, 54.5 percent of Asian students and 68.7 percent of white students scored 1 or 2.
The district hired Martha Greenway, of Atlanta-based Greenway Strategy Group, to lead it through its first strategic planning process. This objective data — sourced from the district’s Kansas Report Card for 2017-2018 and broken down to focus on key concerns — was among what she shared with the school board at its Feb. 25 meeting.
Greenway explained that her group was able to disaggregate the data to look at each racial and ethnic subgroup broken down by socio-economic status. That allowed them to separate out the effect of income from the effect of race on performance, she said.
“When controlling for poverty and taking out students who are low socio-economic status as defined by free and reduced lunch … white students, half of them are scoring at level 3 or 4; African-American students, only 28 percent of them are scoring at level 3 or 4,” Greenway told the board. “So you have the influence of race here in the math data that is not explained by differences in poverty.”
She said eighth-grade math performance is a predictor of high school dropout, because when students reach ninth grade, they’re more likely to drop out if they fail a course.
“So if they’re not prepared for math and they fail math, then they’re more likely to drop out,” she said. “So this is an important indicator to be attentive to, and we see that eighth-grade math does vary considerably by subgroups.”
She also highlighted third-grade reading scores. The differences between socio-economic groups in those scores are particularly stark. White, multiracial and Asian third-graders who receive free and reduced lunches achieved scores of 3 or 4 at rates 30, 30 and 31 percentage points lower, respectively, than self-paying students of the same races.
“For your students, poverty is much more of a differentiator in English language arts than it is in math,” Greenway told the board. “Because of that, we don’t see the same phenomenon of the lower-income white students performing higher than the non-free and reduced lunch African-American or Hispanic students, but that’s largely because the gaps by income are so large across the board.”
Still, racial gaps are highly evident in these scores. For example, 54.5 percent of Asian students scored at levels 3 and 4; just 26.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students, and 32.6 percent of African-American students, hit those marks.
However, looking at the district as a whole, its students’ ACT scores and Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores are better than or on par with state and national averages.
Increasing the scores that indicate third-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency became two of the priority student outcomes in the strategic plan draft that Greenway presented to the board.
Graduation and beyond
The other three priority outcomes are to narrow achievement gaps between student groups, to increase high school completion and to advance students’ post-graduation success in college or career.
“When we compare Lawrence to the nation, to Kansas and to other comparable school districts, we see that you’re more toward the lower end of the scale than the middle of the scale on four-year cohort graduation rate,” Greenway told the board.
She said that for comparison in four-year cohort graduation rates, her group selected a few districts within the state and several across the country that have similar demographics or are similar in size to Lawrence and are also the home of a major higher education institution.
Greenway’s presentation includes a chart that shows the rates from largest to smallest, left to right, among comparable districts. De Soto and Blue Valley are at the far left with graduation percentages of 97.8 and 96.6 percent; Lawrence’s 82.4 percent is toward the far right, followed by Garden City, 80.5 percent.
The four-year cohort graduation rate, Greenway noted, is particularly low among free and reduced lunch students at 71.2 percent.
Greenway also looked at the post-graduation success rate for the district. That’s a measure taken two years after students graduate from a district. She said students are “a positive” in that category if they’ve earned an industry-recognized certification while in high school, earned a postsecondary certificate or degree or if they’re enrolled in postsecondary education in both the first and second year after high school graduation.
In that measure from the classes of 2012 to 2016, Lawrence’s rate has been 57 percent on average, topping out at 58.5 percent for the class of 2015 before dropping to 55.5 percent for 2016.
“I will note that the choice of language of ‘college or career’ was intentional because it was very clear from the community input that a path that leads directly to a career needs to be considered as valued as a path that leads to college, and equal resources need to be provided for both paths,” Greenway told the board, regarding the fifth priority outcome that will be part of the strategic plan.
Strategic themes and next steps
As the Journal-World reported, the five themes Greenway identified for the strategic plan are effective and committed employees; guaranteed and cohesive curriculum; student-centered learning; social/emotional support for students; and data-informed decisions.
In addition to this data, Greenway’s group looked at feedback from surveys the district has conducted or hired a third party to conduct, plus information and comments gathered in various forums and focus groups.
Also, board members have asked Greenway to make sure the themes clearly showed that each would be viewed through an equity lens. Board Vice President Melissa Johnson emphasized “making sure we purposefully place that in the strategic initiatives, what equity work will do in each theme.”
Superintendent Anthony Lewis will host a second community forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 4 at Connect Church, 3351 W. 31st St., to talk about what works or doesn’t work well within the plan’s framework, what’s missing and what ideas people have for the themes and the next step, strategic initiatives.
Lewis also gave a live update via the district’s Facebook page, facebook.com/LawrencePublicSchools, on Friday afternoon, and that video is available online.
Contact Mackenzie Clark
Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact schools, health and county reporter Mackenzie Clark: