Report reveals yawning achievement gap in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools

students-taking-an-exam-by-zelig-school-creative-commonsAt Policy Watch, we’ve written extensively on the struggle to close the so-called “achievement gap” between white students and some minority students in North Carolina.

Now, in a must-read in The News & Observer this week, a new report in one of North Carolina’s most academically decorated systems reveals just how persistent the gaps remain in the state.

From the N&O:

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will create a new, data-driven set of long-range goals and yearly interventions to improve student performance, after receiving a troubling report that shows persistent achievement gaps and poor comparisons to state averages.

The Annual Report of Student Performance for 2015-16 was formally presented to the school board Thursday night in Lincoln Center.

The state average was better than the district’s in 11 categories.

A composite chart of end-of-grade and end-of-course scores shows that only 31 percent of black students and 40 percent of Latino students were in the college-ready range, compared to 85 percent of white students.

A team working with Interim Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Rydell Harrison has identified four areas of concern in the 2014-15 data, and will perform a “deep dive” into those issues to discover what’s causing them.

One big concern is that the study shows five groups of students with significant gaps between graduation rates and eligibility for UNC system colleges, based on ACT scores.

Those students include African-Americans, Latinos, students with disabilities, students that are economically disadvantaged, and students with limited English proficiency.

Among those. African-American students saw the largest gap at 41 percent, even though they graduated at 82 percent.

It’s a fascinating report from one of the state’s highest-performing districts that suggests the trouble with the achievement gap persists despite years of promises from leaders in the progressive district to correct the problem.

The reaction from local school board leaders, according to the N&O, was one of outrage.

School board member Rani Dasi said she lost sleep the night before Thursday’s meeting, after reading the report.

“We all need to respond like we are in a crisis situation,” she said.

Dasi suggested resetting budget priorities, if needed. She agreed with board member Andrew Davidson that any resources needed to improve student outcomes must be identified well ahead of the next budget process.

Board Chair James Barrett agreed, too: “We don’t want to be a blockade.”

Harrison said the district’s new philosophy is to intervene on the school system, which differs from the older approach of intervening on students.

“We’re not fixing broken children,” he said. “We’re fixing broken systems.”

His team has already set some goals, such as setting quarterly benchmarks for science and math; and expanding Fundations, an early literacy program with an emphasis on phonics, to all K-2 classrooms.

Fundations was piloted in kindergarten classes of four CHCCS schools last year.

“When I talk to principals about expanding from kindergarten to first grade this year, there wasn’t a lot of arm-twisting that had to happen,” said Harrison. “First grade teachers saw the success of it.”

During public comments at Thursday’s meeting, audience members expressed years of frustration over the achievement gap for African-American students, as well as skepticism that effective changes will be made soon.

“What’s different?” community activist Anna Richards asked the board. “What can we point to a year from now and say, ‘Because of this, we made a difference?’”

We’ll continue to follow this important issue in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and across the state.

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