Black parents concerned by 'dismal' scores in Dist. 204

  • Members of PAGES, a group at Waubonsie Valley High School that stands for Parents Advocating for the Greater Enrichment of Students, stand to ask the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board to do more to close the achievement gap for black students.

    Members of PAGES, a group at Waubonsie Valley High School that stands for Parents Advocating for the Greater Enrichment of Students, stand to ask the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board to do more to close the achievement gap for black students. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • Parent Andrea Collier says she wants Indian Prairie Unit District 204 to do more to close the academic achievement gap between black students and students of other races.

    Parent Andrea Collier says she wants Indian Prairie Unit District 204 to do more to close the academic achievement gap between black students and students of other races. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • D204 achievement gap

    Graphic: D204 achievement gap (click image to open)

 
 
Posted1/18/2016 5:30 AM

Too many black students are falling short on standardized tests in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, some parents say, and school officials must do more to close the academic achievement gap.

On a new test given last spring, only 31 percent of the district's black students met or exceeded standards in English and only 25 percent met or exceeded standards in math.

 

The gap between black students' and white students' scores is 29 percentage points in English and 32 percentage points in math.

Between black students and Asian students, the highest-performing group in the district, the gap is even wider -- 45 percentage points in English and 57 percentage points in math.

A group of black parents recently met with the school board and called the results on District 204's state report card "deeply concerning" and "dismal" for black students.

The district serves about 28,500 students in portions of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.

"We expect to have better outcomes," said Andrea Collier, a member of a Waubonsie Valley High School parent group called PAGES, or Parents Advocating for the Greater Enrichment of Students, "We've known about the achievement gap for many years. The gaps have not changed."

Administrators say they've been working to close the gap for at least a decade by providing tutoring and extra test preparation for minority students. But Collier and other parents from Waubonsie and Metea Valley high schools, both in Aurora, say they want such efforts increased and made more visible.

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"All of our African-American children need to be successful academically and have equality across the board," said the Rev. Marilyn J.D. Barnes, a parent at Metea Valley. "That's what we're clearly not seeing with these scores."

School officials said they are aiming to decrease the achievement gap in its high schools by between 2 percentage points and 5 percentage points by next school year in both English and math.

Parents say that's a good goal, but they want more detail about what the district is doing to achieve it.

"We want to ensure measurable actions are taken," Waubonsie parent Susan T. Demming said.

Louis Lee, assistant superintendent for high schools, said even before results from the new standardized test were available, school officials placed a priority on improving minority performance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We want to be intentional about some of our interventions to continue to narrow that gap," Lee said.

So far, school officials have created a student-athlete leadership team and established a parent diversity advisory council that is working with administrators to improve minority student engagement in the learning environment.

Other actions planned or underway include:

• Providing a school climate that fosters equity by keeping teachers updated about social-emotional learning, drug and alcohol prevention and issues among students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

• Developing a support system for homeless students with emphasis on tutoring, college and test preparation, participation in sports and clubs and providing materials to be successful in school.

• Restructuring study skills interventions to ensure assistance aligns to and supports student goals.

• Giving more professional development to teaching assistants, so they can do more coteaching.

• Ensuring teachers are giving lessons that require higher-level thinking instead of straight memorization.

• Instructing sport and club facilitators to invite at least five students of color to participate in their activity.

Lee said higher-level thinking and involving more minorities in activities are strategies to increase success beyond standardized tests.

When teachers challenge students to use facts they've learned in real-world situations, he said, learning deepens.

"Really what we're talking about is getting our students and engaging with them in a process that requires them to use some of their higher-level skill sets of application and evaluation and analysis as opposed to just knowledge or comprehension," Lee said.

And when students join after-school activities, they're more likely to avoid the pitfalls of risky social behaviors.

"The more we can get kids involved in school activities, the more it's going to increase student engagement," Lee said. "Can we get more of our minority students involved in some of these after-school activities because we know the success that that's going to create for them?"

Barnes said she understands the benefits of extracurricular activities, as both of her high schoolers are involved in athletics. But she cautioned against "pigeonholing" black kids as naturally athletic.

"We can't continue to look at African-American students as athletes who are students," Barnes said. "That's setting them up for failure."

Parents said it's important for educators to ask students what support they need to be more successful in school instead of creating programs based on what the adults think is best. With online pressures mounting for teens, the help kids crave could be different from what educators predict.

"They have a lot that comes at them with social media, so what do we do to keep them on the positive track?" Barnes said.

Lee and Superintendent Karen Sullivan said they're open to hearing ideas such as these from parents, and they'll be meeting soon with Waubonsie's PAGES members who raised achievement gap concerns during the latest school board meeting.

Sullivan cautioned that no one program will result in immediate test score growth among black students. The same applies to Hispanics, who also scored lower than Asian and white students on last year's test, with 39 percent meeting or exceeding standards in English and 35 percent in math.

"There isn't, and probably never will be, one panacea for the entire district," Sullivan said. "Every school is different, and every population is different."

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