School board report shows racial disparities in reading, literacy

photo by: Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence school district offices, pictured in April 2021.

Lawrence school board members at Monday’s meeting expressed concern over racial disparities in the area of reading and literacy skills for the district’s K-though-10 students.

A review of the data for the current semester showed that at least 50% of the district’s K-through-10 students were categorized as “on track/low risk” for reading assessments in four subgroup populations, but racial disparities were also evident. Around 13 percent of both Asian and white K-through-10 students were categorized as being at “high risk” of not being on track, while 35% of African-American students and 27.5% of American Indian/Alaska native students were categorized as high-risk.

photo by: Lawrence school district screenshot

Data presented to Lawrence school board members Monday night that shows racial disparities in reading and literacy skills.

Patrick Kelly, the district’s chief academic officer, said that when reviewing the district’s reading assessment scores “we’re not seeing the growth that we would like to see,” and that changes are being made in “our instructional practice, because we’d like to see more growth in the reading capabilities of our students.”

“When you look at the data, it tells you that with our students of color, there is a disparity between their scores and the scores of our white students,” Kelly said. “We have to look at all of our instructional practices to see if we can balance out those gaps.”

Kelly pointed to “LETRS,” which stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, as a tool to help improve early reading scores for K-through-5 students. LETRS is designed to help teachers better understand the science of student struggles in the area of literacy through evidence-based instructional practices.

District Superintendent Anthony Lewis called the scores “stagnant,” but added that they are slowly increasing and headed in the right direction.

“The frustrating part for us is that we have systems in place and were expecting to see more growth, which causes us to go back and really look at the teachers that are trained in LETRS,” he said.

Safety measures

The board approved in its consent agenda the purchase of mobile safety devices that would enable district personnel to transmit panic alerts to administrators and first responders. Larry Englebrick, the district’s chief operations officer, told the Journal-World that the district plans to test the use of the devices at Liberty Memorial Central and Billy Mills middle schools — as well as Cordley, Deerfield, Sunset Hill and Woodlawn elementary schools. Englebrick added that the timeline for implementation of the measure is roughly four to six weeks.

The devices, known as “CrisisAlert” badges will be distributed to all personnel at each of the six buildings, but the district is responsible for $142,200 (or 50%) of the total cost. The other half will come from the district’s “Safe and Supportive Schools” grant.

Lewis also announced that the district completed the rollout of Gaggle software last week. As reported by the Journal-World in September, Gaggle is a system that uses artificial intelligence to look for warning signs of “concerning behavior” in the things students type, send and search for on their district-issued devices. Englebrick told the Journal-World that the district had already received 20 to 30 notifications of concerning behavior.

In other business, the board:

• Approved an updated timeline for review of the district’s curriculum — as well as course additions and changes for the 2024-25 school year. The district’s curriculum review process entails several steps that include data collection, a curriculum audit, evaluation and revisions and a review of the assessment data. Course additions for students in grades seven through 12 for the 2024-25 school year include four new math classes related to algebra and geometry, an introductory-level computer science class for middle school students and a course that centers on the skills necessary for the fabrication of products.


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