Reflections on Achievement Gap Discussions with Calvert County Principals

On March 21, 2016, several of Calvert County principals made presentations to the Citizen Advisory Committee to the Board of Education.  The committee is a group of citizens that were appointed in a advisory capacity to make specific recommendations on issues of concern to the Board. This school year the Board asked the committee to gather and assess information on the issue of the Academic Achievement Gap affecting students across the county.

The March 21, 2016 CAC meeting was another in a series of meetings the committee has had to develop recommendations on addressing the county’s ongoing achievement gap issue.

Only a month earlier, the Closing the Gap Coalition came before the committee and provided substantial data which was surrounded by a few questions, since it was from the newly-instituted Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.  The CGC is a community-chartered group that provided us a valuable insight on what steps they undertook to address gap issues. I came away thinking that was a good start, and I anxiously looked forward to the principals’ visit to share their daily experience with gap issues.

As many know, minority students are often identified as a group most found hampered by this achievement gap. But the gap has also been affecting students in a much wider scope such as those of special needs, low income, etc.  The committee received presentations from the principals of Sunderland Elementary and Southern Middle, along with Patuxent High’s vice-principal.  The Director of Student Services also presented an overall on related gap issues such as suspension rates.

Generally, speaking the presentations were good news on how the county is seeking to build more effective relationships with the students.  Each presenter conveyed a deep sense of commitment to their students and sought the very best out of each’s ability.  It was very evident that this relationship-building was a fundamental aspect of how the county is responding to gap issues and who they are going to portray its efforts to the community.

I was quite surprised to hear this because you might have thought the broader community might have been privy to such a strategy, and particularly members of this committee who work for the Board.  However, if you don’t remain vigilant, probe, and inquire into the direction of education, you always be surprised by the course it’s taking.

A portion of the Sunderland presentation showcased a difficult relationship that began in elementary school (even including a picture of the youth back then) but matured and became a successful outcome for one African American youth.  That challenging youth grew-up and now he even acknowledges his tough school years; but, today he anxiously returns to his former school and teacher to speak and share his success with a new generation of elementary school kids.

This was a great example and quite touching, revealing how effective relationships can have a significant impact on how far a student can rise. Likewise, the committee heard other wonderful citations of what was being accomplished in these relationships-building endeavors.  It was quite telling that indeed something new was being tested in Calvert schools, even to the subtle pressure exerted on students to take more honors and Advance Placement courses.

The most remarkable aspect of the entire night was the complete avoidance of any metric on what represents the academic achievement gap at any of the three levels of education in the county.  For this reason, we had requested the officials to provide their expertise on the achievement issue at their level.  We were tasked by the Board to make recommendations and that means to collect, assess, and then inform. Based on what I heard, there is very little I can ascertain from the presentations other than relationship-building is the main course-of-action to solving the gap issue.

But, let’s ask several questions.  How can you address an issue, if you don’t know the dynamics or the basic tenets of the issue you’re trying to address?  From my experience, I was trained to continue assuming until you can verify and then make changes based on the verified information.   If I am to assume from the presentations, then I’ll have to keep assuming because there was no basis to which I could change assumptions on the achievement gap or draw any valid conclusions.

The principals received polite applaud, but I wondered what happened to the January request we made for details and specifics.  In anticipation of their visit, I had requested through the committee’s coordinator the following (January 13, 2016):

  • “For the February meeting, if we are still having the principals attend and if no one else has asked it: Could we have principals answer a few of the questions below?
  • What Gap issue(s) are they working on- by priority?  What are the key indications on the Gap issue or issues and how were those indicators derived? What is the progress towards addressing those key indicators? Is there any accountability related to that progress on the indicators and is it reported out to the community?
  • I’m sure they’ll touch on some of these issues, but it might be nice to have the information simplified for our understanding.”

Note the final statement because the substance of the presentations were not objective enough and would not lead the committee to any future recommendations.  The committee was formed for just that reason.

What was the thinking around why this feel-good information would be what the principals would share?  What was the reception to the committee’s request to provide substantial data, so we can have better insight on what we had been tasked to provide- recommendations?

Only a month earlier, the Closing the Gap Coalition came before the committee and provide substantial data which may have been somewhat questionable, since it was from the newly-instituted Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test- but it was verifiable data.  The CGC is a community-chartered group that provided us a valuable insight on what steps they undertook to address gap issues. I came away thinking that was a good start, and I anxiously looked forward to the principals’ visit to share their daily experience with gap issues.

Listed below are a few examples of possible disaggregated data that I thought the presenters might have shared to help the committee refine its understanding of issues surrounding the achievement gap:

  • Percentage of Students: Receiving advanced standing or credit in technical courses, earning licenses, or passing National Occupational Competency testing Instituted  assessments.
  • Percentage of Students: Completing Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in grades 9-12 and earning qualifying scores (e.g., eligible college credit).
  • Percentage of Students: Passing Geometry by the end of 9th grade with a C or better.
  • Percentage of Students: Passing of Algebra II by the end of 9th or 10th with a C or better (This question was asked of the high school vice-principal).

This data is a short list from a local school system, along with its much-involved-community, which took on the academic achievement gap within its jurisdiction. Reflecting on its approach, the school system said it wished there had been even more community involvement, even though the initiative had been community-led from the onset.

Now this committee has only two more meetings to actually formulate any thoughts on the County’s academic achievement gap.  I’m accustomed to completing important task; and I hope our committee can be successful in this endeavor as well and not disappoint a community expecting more.

—nothing follows—

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *