By Tara Cavanaugh
The district presented positive news at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting with the 2012-2013 Student Achievement Report. The comprehensive report shows the district continues to make progress in addressing the achievement gap.
“Using data analysis in a formative manner is the way we can effectively and efficiently address student academic growth in a meaningful way,” said AAPS Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green. “This one document will serve our schools, teachers and principals, as well as our instructional staff, with the key tool needed to make data-driven instructional decision.”
“In order to achieve personalized learning for all of our students, it’s important that we’re carefully looking at data by subgroups,” said Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Alesia Flye.
This year’s report of 153 pages is the largest ever. “This year, under Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green’s leadership, it’s very comprehensive in terms of the components,” said Flye.
Overall, AAPS is a high-performing district. The report shows that AAPS outperformed the state in every subject area and grade level on the MEAP. The district’s high school juniors performed above the national and state averages on the ACT. The high schools also increased the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses by 36 percent when compared to numbers five years ago.
Although the district is high-performing overall, close analysis shows that minority and economically disadvantaged students sometimes do not perform as highly. For example, less than 10 percent of African American, economically disadvantaged, special education, and English Language Learner students performed at the Advanced Proficient level, which is the highest level, on the MEAP last year.
“We have some subgroups performing at a lower level than others,” Flye said. “But you’ll see students are making gains in the school district.” The report shows that African American students made significant gains in the reading and mathematics portions of the MEAP last year, increasing between two and 13 points.
Another area the district hopes to improve upon is the discipline gap. The data in the report shows that minority and economically disadvantaged students are suspended more often than their Caucasian or economically secure peers.
The district is addressing the gap by collecting more data about students and disciplinary action and monitoring the data at principal meetings and Dr. Green’s cabinet meetings.
“Sometimes when you analyze data from that lens, people can be surprised,” Flye said. “Sometimes (disciplinary action) happens routinely and you don’t even realize the frequency of which it’s occurring.”
Flye said the administration has also stressed the importance of making sure that alternatives to suspensions are put in place.
“We don’t want to waste any instructional time, and we don’t want to remove students from the instructional setting without appropriate reason for doing so,” Flye said. “If students aren’t in school, they’re not learning.”
The administration has also implemented district-wide strategies that address the social and emotional aspects of learning, so that teachers and principals understand and address the motivations behind student behavior.
Next week, the district is hosting Dr. James P. Comer from the Yale Child Study Center. Dr. Comer has pioneered development of a program that addresses the social and emotional needs of poor and socially marginalized students.
Assessing data is vitally important to a district with an increasingly diverse student population. During the past decade, the district’s Caucasian population has decreased from 61 percent to 51 percent. Meanwhile, the district’s Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Arab American and multi-ethnic populations increased. The African American population saw a small (one percent) decrease.
Flye mentioned recent initiatives that are addressing the achievement gaps. NWEA testing gives teachers immediate feedback on their students, instead of needing to wait a year for results from the MEAP test. The Tech Bond will allow the district to supply more up-to-date computers so that all students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, have access to technology. A new data analysis software called Data Director is allowing the district to warehouse and organize more data than ever before.
Overall, the Student Achievement Report shows a diverse district that is working toward meeting the needs of all of its students.
“We continue to be a high-performing district,” Flye said. “Our outcomes reflect continuing performance above state and national standards.”
From here, the district will continue to push for progress. “We’re going to continue to focus on the work that we’ve set in place with our Achievement Gap Elimination Plan and Discipline Gap Plan, and continue the implementation components.”