For my job, I write about K-12 education in Columbia, Mo. As we know, there are few more valuable things a person can attain in life than a quality education. But schools around the nation have struggled with ensuring every student is equally educated. Schools particularly have struggled with addressing an “achievement gap” between black students and their peers. The data in school districts all over the nation shows the same thing: black students scoring worse than their Asian, white and sometimes Hispanic peers. In Columbia, some stats show the achievement gap is bigger than in other parts of the country. In a recent story, I tried to tackle what the achievement gap means for Columbia, Mo., and how administrators here plan to close it.
Click here to read the story on the Columbia Daily Tribune Web site, or read it below.
Achievement gap still shows in MAP
Blacks, Hispanics continue to lag.
By Jonathon Braden
The gap between the academic performance of black students in Columbia and statewide grew during the past year in both communication arts and math, according to the Missouri Assessment Program test results released Aug. 12.
Black students’ MAP scores were two of the 10 subgroup numbers in which the state average was higher than Columbia’s mark. Columbia students outperformed state averages in scores for the other four subgroups.
“We have work to do,” said Nathan Stephens of the Black Parents Association of Columbia Public Schools. “We must come together to do whatever it is we need to do.”
The widening disparity shows that the much-discussed achievement gap between white students and minority students continues to hamper Columbia more than it does the district’s peers. Six years after the school district made eliminating achievement disparities between groups of students one of the Board of Education’s three goals, the gap has swelled.
But with a new superintendent and a new five-year strategic plan, district officials say now is the time to determine what needs to change to close Columbia’s achievement gap. “We’re like everyone else; we’re not getting it done,” Superintendent Chris Belcher said. “That is so disappointing because there’s been so much money that’s been poured into closing the gap.”
MAP scores measure how many students are proficient in a subject according to the test’s standards. If one subgroup at a school does not meet the federally set goals for communication arts or math, the entire school fails to meet its progress goal.
The scores track data for Columbia in seven student subgroups: Asians; blacks; Hispanics; whites; students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch; those in individualized education plans, or IEP; and students with limited English proficiency, or LEP.
In the Columbia district, only Asian and white students outperformed the state averages for math and communication arts.
This year, 64.3 percent of Columbia white students were proficient in communication arts. The state average was 56.6 percent. In math, 57.9 percent of Columbia white students were proficient compared to the state average of 53.6 percent.
Asian students fared even better. In communication arts, 67.9 percent of Columbia Asian students scored proficient this year. The state average was 61.7 percent. In math, the state average for Asian students was 64.8 percent this year. In Columbia, 72.5 percent of Asian students were proficient.
Hispanic students scored worse than both white and Asian students. In 2009, 37.5 percent of Hispanic students in Columbia scored proficient in communication arts compared to the state average of 37.7 percent. In math, 32.8 percent of Columbia Hispanic students were proficient this year. The state average is 35.8 percent.
But no subgroup data have gained the attention of the public and of school administrators more than those of black students, whose scores routinely are much lower than their white and Asian peers around the nation.
In 2008, 21.2 percent of Columbia black students scored proficient in communication arts compared to the state average of 24 percent. In 2009, 25.7 percent of Columbia black students were proficient in the subject, but the state average jumped to 29.7 percent.
In math, 18.9 percent of black students in Columbia were proficient in 2008 compared to the state average, 21.2 percent. This year, 18.7 percent of Columbia black students scored proficient in math. The state average of black students scoring proficient was 23 percent.
“The board and administration continue to assess results,” board President Jan Mees said in an e-mail, “and approach this issue realizing what we have done in the past isn’t working.”
Belcher said this year’s information alone doesn’t mean much because it is one year’s worth and did not track individual students. He said the scores provide a “snapshot of the system.”
But he acknowledged that much of what the school district has done in the past six years hasn’t narrowed the gap. “We need to start to critically analyze what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he said.
Stephens said he’d like to talk with national experts about what has worked in other cities. “We can ill afford to continue to sit back and hope things get better,” he said.
Board members and administrators say the new five-year strategic plan should help the school district chip away at the gap between state and Columbia averages for the academic achievement of black students. Board member Jim Whitt will be co-chairman of the student performance committee as part of the district’s five-year plan.
“I think we’ve got a real opportunity to make some significant changes,” Whitt said, “and I think we’re well on our way to doing that.”