New Equity Data Highlights Achievement Gaps Among Students

New Equity Data Highlights Achievement Gaps Among Students

Advocacy groups voice ‘crushing sense of urgency’ to improve academic performance for blacks, Hispanics

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A new Montgomery school data dashboard aimed providing accountability for the achievement of poor and minority students has uncovered “painful” information, school officials said.

“Data is data and it’s tough to look at when it disputes common misconceptions about your school system,” school system spokesman Derek Turner said.

“When you ask people what the best school district in the state is, everyone says Montgomery County, but looking at the data, that hasn’t been true for a while,” Turner said. “We are somewhere in the middle of the road in graduation rates, for example, and we need to change the perception about where Montgomery County is and serve students where they are rather than relying on old perceptions, because those get in the way of us solving the problems.”

The model assesses each of the district’s 206 schools, adding to state and federal data reporting guidelines to focus on specific groups of students “who have not experienced the same level of access, opportunity or success as other students,” according to school system staff.

The dashboard was released Friday and takes data the school system has been gathering for years and breaks it down from large student populations to smaller, more focused groups.

The data focuses on five student groups: black students not on free or reduced-price meal programs, black students on free or reduced-price meal programs, Hispanic students on meal plans, Hispanic students on meal plans and all other student groups on meal plans.

There are “lots of surprises” hiding in the data, Turner said, but it reiterates white and Asian students largely outperform their peers of color and on reduced-priced meal programs.

Diego Uriburu, executive director of Identity, a Gaithersburg-based nonprofit advocating for Latino students, and Byron Johns, education chair of the Montgomery County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sent a joint letter to top school system administrators on Friday, applauding the new model’s transparency but condemning the achievement gaps highlighted in the data.

“On behalf of the communities we are privileged to work with, we are simultaneously saddened and appalled by the gaps in achievement in many of the schools in your area of supervision, as we assume you are too,” the men wrote. “Our students and families have a crushing sense of urgency to have corrective actions given highest priority, as each school year that goes by only increases the achievement gap and lost potential for a thriving adulthood.”

The school system intends to review the data and determine where achievement gaps exist in individual schools, then develop and implement “school improvement programs,” specific to each school to close the gaps. More data about English language learners and students with special needs will be added later, Turner said.

“We all knew these gaps existed, but we didn’t have the supporting data for it,” he said. “This is important because it’s a way to acknowledge and expose those gaps and hold ourselves accountable. It’s easy to aggregate data and say, ‘Yeah, we’re doing great, but breaking it down like this is really an important way for us, and the community, to hold us accountable for improvement.”

Meetings to discuss the model will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at three high schools: Col. Zadok Magruder, Sherwood and Damascus.

Identical meetings will be held April 24 at Paint Branch, Watkins Mill and Montgomery Blair; and May 13 at Rockville, Quince Orchard and Springbrook.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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