Education
8:52 pm
Mon October 28, 2013

JCPS Officials: 'Equity Scorecards' Can Address Achievement Gaps in Race, Language

Jefferson County Public Schools will release its first “equity scorecards” for schools in November, which will delve into academic disparities—in race and language, for example—that have existed in the district for years.

The district plans to use the scorecards to guide schools in improving the education outcomes for all students.

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“We really need to be honest in terms of challenging the perceptions and the biases that we all hold,” says Judi Vanderhaar, evaluation specialist for JCPS who helped lead the initiative.

The scorecards will use surveys and district data to measure schools in four areas— discipline, literacy, college-and-career readiness, and school climate and culture.

They aren’t meant to be used against poor-performing schools, but to highlight where educators should improve their efforts to meet the unique needs of their students, officials say.

“This helps us better understand where we, as a board, need to direct resources to some of the needs of the students,” JCPS school board chair Diana Porter says.

The equity scorecards will—for the first time—make certain data publicly available and easily accessible while at the same time demonstrate how some schools are beating the odds, and how others are not.

As WFPL previously reported, JCPS staff has been working for months with community and business leaders (parents are among them) on designing what the scorecards will measure and how they can be used.

This year will set the benchmark for all other years that follow and the scorecards will be seen as a working document, officials say.

JCPS—like many large urban school districts—struggles to improve student achievement for all groups, including minority and English language learners. Chief Academic Officer Dewey Hensley told the workgroup Monday, this year was the first time in his memory that all minorities and "gap" groups made progress in Kentucky's accountability system. 

But there’s still a ways to go, district leaders said, and students' needs continue to grow while less per-pupil spending is coming from state government.

In elementary schools, reading proficiency ranges between 19 and 83 percent (without separating the magnet schools—a suggestion made by board member Chris Brady). Each of the four categories measured provides "best practice sites" like Breckenridge Franklin—a school with extreme poverty—which had "one of the largest gains in reading and they also grew amongst every gap group in every subject area,” says Vanderhaar.

In middle schools, suspensions ranged between 3 percent (the rate represents students were suspended at least once) and 33 percent, further demonstrating the disparities among schools.

The scorecards will also focus on longitudinal data. For example, after measuring a cohort of middle school students over three years, 43 percent of the entire black student population was suspended at some point during that period.

On top of that, one suspension can double the chances of dropping out, Vanderhaar says.

The scorecards also gives context to the areas it measures by using student and teacher surveys the district collects. Recent survey data shows about 85 percent of teachers report their students understand expectations in their classes and schools, whereas only 37 percent of students agree.

“It tells us something about what we need to spend some time on with kids,” says District 5 board member Linda Duncan.

JCPS was able to decrease its suspensions last year to around 13,000, but African American students still represent a disproportionate number, Vanderhaar says.

To address this problem, Chief Academic Officer Dewey Hensley says the district has already begun implementing certain programs and initiatives like cultural competency training and the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Systems—PBIS—which is occurring in some JCPS schools, but not all.

“We must do it in all school,” says District 3 board member Debbie Wesslund.

The number one reason students are suspended is for fighting, says Vanderhaar. Some answers, like early intervention and peer-to-peer conferencing, don’t cost any money, she says.

“We’ve got to work on teaching de-escalation skills. This is a stressful environment. And you’re faced with kids who are hungry or angry for stuff they’re faced with at home,” Vanderhaar says.

One new area JCPS is looking at that’s not in Kentucky’s accountability system—partly because it’s difficult to measure—is the “school climate and culture.” But in many examples this correlates to how students perform, officials say.

For example, schools range between 51 percent and 94 percent of students reporting their counselor had discussed their future with college as a goal. Principals are key to the school culture measurement and help lead the vision, says Hensley.

But it’s also about teachers and school staff buying in.

“It’s people who can get along with each other, who are around the same things, have a common and collective vision of what the school is about,” says Hensley.

Young Elementary School is the best practice site for this measure, after making great academic gains last school year.

The scorecard will be a living and breathing document, JCPS assistant superintendent John Marshall says.  On Nov. 20 there will be a public meeting and JCPS will share the context and scorecards with the community.

“JCPS will own its part,” says Marshall.

But it will also need help from the community, he says.

(Image via Shutterstock)