MAP, EOC. These are all standardized tests used to evaluate Missouri students’ academic capabilities. Like students, school districts across Missouri are also subject to examination, that being the Annual Performance Report or the APR. On Feb. 1, APR results for 2018 were announced, with the LSR7 school district scoring a 99.3 percent.
This score is the best the district has received in recent years, a feat West Administrator Jesse Dziurawiec said is “a huge, bright, proud moment for Lee’s Summit.”
The APR consists of five categories that are individually assessed and scored. These categories include Academic Achievement, Subgroup Achievement, College and Career Readiness, Attendance, and Graduation Rate. The scores in each category are “all based on hard numbers”, and use quantitative data, said Dr. Chris Neale, the assistant commissioner of Quality Schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
LSR7 received perfect scores in all categories, except for in the Subgroup Achievement category, where 9.2 points out of 10 were received. Despite the high scores in the other categories, questions arise at why the Subgroup Achievement category scored lower, and why this category exists at all. The Subgroup Achievement category separately evaluates scores of students who are black, Hispanic, qualify for free or reduced lunches, are English Language Learners, or are in special education classes, Neale said.
“This group of students are not called out for any reason to somehow point out any shortcomings, but rather to evaluate whether the school is serving the underserved, traditionally underperforming populations in a way that protects their right to an excellent education,” Neale said.
Christie Barger, Executive Director of Assessment and Data Analysis for the Lee’s Summit School district, said this separate analysis of students who statistically score lower is intended to “make sure that if there are gaps that people aren’t blind to them…we’re acknowledging them and making sure that the data is being reported.”
However, this is not a policy specific to Missouri schools, nor is the issue of underperformance in the subgroup category. In compliance with the Obama Administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, it is required that all states create plans and enforce school districts to separately record the standardized test scores for students who fall into the subgroup category. At the ESSA signing ceremony in December 2015, Barack Obama said the law could empower states and school districts to “develop their own strategies for improvement, dedicating resources to our most vulnerable children.”
The creation of strategies to improve the quality of education for those in the subgroup category is central in Lee’s Summit School district superintendent Dennis Carpenter’s current objectives. “It’s an issue that we’ve really placed on our radar,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s super important to take a close look at the data because we have a mission statement that says ‘We prepare each student for success in life’, so anytime we see that there are gaps in that performance we should be very curious as to why that gap exists number one, and number two commit to closing it in an effective way.”
The increased emphasis Carpenter said was placed on improving Subgroup scores may have had some statistical effect, as the Subgroup Achievement score increased from 82.1 percent in the 2017 APR to a 92 percent in the 2018 APR, nearly a 10 percent growth. Despite this improvement, which Carpenter said is “very promising,” he said it is important to continue developing practices that will further the progress that is currently being made.
Research does not indicate one specific reason for the underperformance of students in the subgroup category. Barger said if there was a single reason “we would fix it…If there was one why we wouldn’t be seeing it at the state and national level.”
However, Carpenter believes the disparity in performance between these two groups has nothing to do with a student’s academic capability, but rather is the product of a lack of opportunity. “If you look at national research, it says there is no such thing as an achievement gap, but there is an opportunity gap that’s causing kids to show lesser achievement,” Carpenter said.
Because of this, Carpenter said creating avenues for additional opportunities for Subgroup students, in addition to non-subgroup students, is vital. “That means we raise the floor and the ceiling simultaneously… but we know there are some things we need to do to accelerate the raising on the floor, so that’s what we’re doing now,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said one of the ways the district is making opportunity more equal is by providing qualifying students with financial aid for IB or college-level classes, and other programs that require payment. Additionally, Carpenter said a heightened effort has been placed on recruiting students who are not traditionally in advanced, college-level, or IB classes, but have every ability to participate in these classes.
Despite these efforts, and the relative success they have had, Carpenter said it is important to continue seeking avenues for change. Carpenter said, “what kind of artificial barriers are we putting up that are keeping kids from engaging in the highest quality learning experiences?”
One method Carpenter said is important in bridging general performance among students in the district is diversity and equity training. “We all know we come from different places and different backgrounds, so how do we learn as much as we can about the backgrounds of others and utilize that in the teaching and learning process?” Carpenter said. “I may be doing a great job, but it’s not relevant to certain populations of students and they’re tuning out over the course of a 13-year student career, that can lead to gaps, right? But if I’m more relevant in my teaching and pedagogy then more students will be able to get it.”
At a school Board Meeting in September 2018, parents expressed concern about addressing inequities specific to race, saying it excludes other marginalized groups, like disabled students. Though opposition to this training remains, Carpenter said the district will “keep trying to get that training in place because our teachers deserve it and our students deserve to have teachers who are competent in that area.”