Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington is hosting community conversations this Friday and Sunday on “Closing the Achievement Gap.” The topic hits close to home.
We typically think of the achievement gap as a national phenomenon – as the gap between test scores for white and minority students. Or the gap between scores for high-performing and “failing” schools.
But thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, individual schools and school districts report test results for “disaggregated groups” of students: those from racial and ethnic categories, students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, special-needs kids and English language learners.
And those results raise questions for the Monroe County Community School Corp. in Bloomington. It had some of the lowest test-passing rates in Indiana this year for students from low-income families and for minority students. And it had some of the biggest test-score achievement gaps in the state.
I’ve lived in Bloomington most of my adult life, and I can’t think of a good reason why this should be the case. We know that poor kids are less likely to pass standardized tests than middle-class or affluent kids. But is poverty in Bloomington different from poverty in other Indiana cites?
Why would this community, which prides itself on good schools, be near the bottom for the percentage of poor students who pass ISTEP+ exams? Why would it have one of Indiana’s largest gaps between the passing rate for its paid-lunch students and its free-and-reduced lunch students? And why would the difference in ISTEP+ passing rates between its black students and its white students be one of the biggest in the state?
Here are charts that compare the ISTEP+ passing percentages for paid-lunch vs. free-and-reduced-lunch students at Monroe County schools and five districts that are similar on paper in size and demographics: Bartholomew County (Columbus), Franklin Township on the southeast side of Indianapolis, Lafayette, New Albany-Floyd County, and Vigo County (Terre Haute). For Lafayette, I combined the Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County school districts to approximate MCCSC demographics. That required some guesswork, but the results should be close.
The bar graphs aren’t radically different, but they do show trends. Monroe County schools have the lowest passing rate for students from low-income families; and they have the biggest gap between paid-lunch and free-and-reduced-lunch students.
Here are similar charts that compare passing rates for non-Hispanic white students vs. those for African-American students. Again, Monroe County doesn’t stack up so well.
Some readers may rightly take issue with drawing conclusions from test scores. Certainly an overemphasis on testing has done serious damage to our schools. Test scores shouldn’t be used to label schools – or, as Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz points out, to label students.
On the other hand, if demographically similar students score worse in one school district than in others, we should take note. Data can’t tell us everything, but data can and sometimes should motivate us to ask questions. In this case, the question is: Why?
The Ivy Tech sessions, part of the National Issues Forum developed by the Kettering Foundation, are Friday from 6- 7:30 p.m. and Sunday from 2-3:30 p.m. at the John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington. See the Ivy Tech news blog for more information.