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What Happened to the Calvert 41?

Last April 2015, I was a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee to the Calvert County Board of Education.  Our group received a presentation from school board officials about the achievement gap in the county.  After reviewing the information and conducting further research on the topic, I discovered that there were likely at least 41 Calvert County African American fourth and fifth graders who were likely denied access to honor math courses because of a number of factors with race being a major contributor.  Thus, I’ve identified them as the Calvert 41.

I don’t know if one of those 41 are any students you know.  I don’t know if any of those 41 subsequently went into honors the next year.  But, what I do know is: if there were 41 student denied honors access (with race playing a big factor) in 2015, there is a strong likelihood or maybe a certainty there’s another 41 or more coming-up this year.

There is something patently unfair about this situation.  I know these kids didn’t do anything to have this happen to them.  They didn’t score so poorly on tests or misbehave, as so often they’re tagged as being disruptive, discipline problems.  What this speaks to is apathy, with enough blame to go around.  This apathy simply means I am not going to invest time into this situation because it doesn’t affect me or pay off for me.

I’m not sure if that last statement is one of fact because it does affect everybody that allows this to continue.  I’ve been on groups where one of the goals was to address these biases in the school. I’ve heard school officials skip over that and seemingly paint a rosy picture of building a new future.

Well 2015 was not such a bright new future for the Calvert 41, as they likely faced being considered not-worthy of more challenging curriculum by not being placed in last year’s honors classes.  And, certainly they will have missed the academic rigor of last year’s more challenging coursework.  So, that leaves them missing the development at the lower grade and facing more rigorous coursework at the higher grade.  It is no wonder they don’t want to take honors courses, particularly if it’s been said “you’re not ready.”

And, if our school officials want to increase their honors and AP numbers, they can just assigned unprepared kids into more honors classes, even without the prep.  I don’t understand.  If I’m not being prepared at an early age, then how am I to be prepared later when the opportunity for development has passed.

In Calvert, the 2015 African American elementary enrollment in honors classes was one-half of its demographic- six percent versus a population demographic of 13 percent.  So, in 2015, we sent less than half of our potential AA elementary school population to the next grade with honor rigors, while the White population sent nearly 85 percent of their kids to honors courses,and they are 72 percent of the population.

Doesn’t something about this look strange?  Well for the Calvert 41, they just get lost in the numbers.  We don’t know why or where they are now.  If they hadn’t been denied honors in the fourth and fifth grade math, it likely they would have gone onto honors in the next grade.  And, if they went onto honors then, it’s quite likely they would have gone onto honors in the next grade, until reaching the Algebra I and II courses which are gatekeepers for higher math. Some say Algebra II is also the gatekeeper for college and more rewarding technical careers.

That’s all for now, but I wish to track the Calvert 41 cohort into the upcoming years to see if they overcome the setback.

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—

 

Reflections on Calvert County’s State of the County Schools Report

On January 28, 2016, I attended the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Calvert County School Superintendent Dr. Dan Curry presented a report on “State of the Calvert County Public Schools” which by all estimates was refreshingly optimistic and upbeat.  In fact, I believe it was truly a compliment to the staff and their efforts to maintain high standards of accomplishments in Calvert schools.  With a high school graduation rate over 94 percent, the school  systems is highly ranked  statewide.  I was also impressed with Curry’s report on school maintenance which also ranks very high.

Yet, however optimistic Curry’s overall report was, there was one area of continuing concern and that is the state of minority achievement (African Americans in particular) in Calvert County schools. The disaggregated data on African American students points to a need to look more closely at how well minorities students are faring in Calvert.

In his presentation, Curry reported that one of his goals and that of the Board of Education’s was to ensure minority kids see people just like themselves in the schools.  However, today the majority of African Americans in the Calvert school system are not teachers and professionals, but the highly valued and much needed support staff.  It’s ironic that they are represented within the schools at about 13 percent of the staff which is very closely to the county’s African Americans demographic number.  While, African American professional and teacher staff are represented at around six percent- less than half of its county demographic.  See Figure I. below which illustrates the low number of minority teachers in Calvert and the limited capacity to add more minorities on Calvert’s staff.

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Figure I. Calvert County Demographics versus the Actual Teacher’ Staffing

Continue reading Reflections on Calvert County’s State of the County Schools Report