Why is the gap between Black students and White students widening on test scores, graduation rates and other academic areas? Experts and community leaders gathered last Thursday to discuss the causes and possible solutions to this lack of educational success.
"We are looking at the data and research to come up with a strategic plan to close the achievement gap," said Janet Hayakawa, achievement gap study manager for the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning.
As part of Washington State House Bill 2722 (HB 2722), a 15-member advisory committee was created to study the reasons behind the achievements gap. HB 2722 was passed in 2008 as the State legislature found that "of all the challenges confronting the African American community, perhaps none is more critical to the future than the education of African American children."
The committee's four goals are to examine the existing data, explore initiatives that improve student learning, identify the "best practices" to help students and, finally to create a plan which will help to increase educational achievement.
Thursday's meeting was the first of three public meetings held to present some of the preliminary findings of the committee's research as well as hear feedback from the community.
"Although, we had hoped for a larger turnout, there was rich conversation at the Seattle Town Hall meeting," said Trish Dziko, co-chair for the HB 2722 Advisory Committee. "The committee got a lot of valuable information."
Around 50 people were at the meeting and most of the focus was on how to provide students with more opportunities to succeed.
"The loudest refrain was for community and family engagement," said Hayakawa. "That we needed to re-orientate ourselves to helping solve this."
While the meeting also discussed the problems facing students and the data showing this, the committee was looking to "focus more on solutions" in order to include them in their final report.
The committee held another public meeting in Spokane on Nov. 18 and has their final meeting in Tacoma on Nov. 22. The purpose of these meetings was to gather ideas from around the state. The committee regarded community outreach as an effective method of pulling in more information for their final plan.
According to research by the Education Trust, the achievement gap among Black students in Washington State is widening in areas such as reading, mathematics, and science.
While the overall scores were rising from previous years, the rate at which they were increasing trailed those of White students. For example, on a 4th grade reading test, the score increased by 2 points for Black students from 1996 to 2007 while White students saw a gain of 8 points.
"When you look at the data, it is terrible," said Hayakawa.
Enrollment in Advancement Placement courses in high school also trails those of White or Asian students. Of all the students taking AP courses, 75 percent are White, compared with 5 percent Black, 10 percent Latino, and 8 percent Asian. Hayakawa also said Black students score the lowest across the board on college entrance exams such as the SAT.
In addition to lower scores in the classroom and on standardized testing, Black students were also showing lower rates in graduation from both high school and college.
"We have an issue when 30 percent of African Americans don't graduate on time from high school," said Hayakawa.
Nationally, Washington ranks in the middle among other states in terms of the African-American education gap. According to the Education Trust, Washington state ranks 4th in providing low-income families financial aid to pay college tuition, but also ranks 37th in total spending per student in grades K-12.
"Washington State is not in the bottom of the barrel, but we're not on the top of the heap either," said Hayakawa.
The major focus of the advisory committee is to provide the legislature with a final plan on Dec. 30. The committee is focused on providing a plan that will have long-term, sustainable system change. The plan is focusing on five areas which the committee sees as critical to closing the achieve gap. These areas are education leadership, teacher quality, curriculum, family and community engagement, and student support.
"We're making good progress on developing a plan that we're very excited to present to the state legislature," said Mona Bailey Co-Chair for HB 2722 Advisory Committee. "This will take us on a productive journey to close the achievement gap for African-American students."
For more information on the advisory committee and their findings, visit the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning's website at http://www.k12.wa.us/cisl/