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November 8, 2005

Academic gap shrinks; both levels drop

By Michele Munz
Sunday, Oct. 30 2005

The gap in academic achievement between black and white students in the St. Louis area has decreased in the past five years, according to findings released Sunday of the first comprehensive study of school districts' efforts to reduce the gap - but only because the academic performance of white students dropped more than that of black students.

The study concluded: "An alarming fact came forth: the decrease in the gap was not due to an increase in achievement by black students, but, instead, resulted largely from a decrease in achievement levels by both black and white students."

The study looked at 25 school districts that educate the bulk of the area's black students in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The study was done by the St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable as part of the group's initiative launched in 2001 to eliminate the achievement disparity between whites and blacks.

"This was never designed to lower the academic achievement of any child," said Dr. Madye Henson, chairwoman of the Roundtable's education committee. "In addition to focusing on eliminating the gap, we also have to focus on overall academic achievement."

Henson spoke before releasing the 102-page study - 2005 Regional Report Card: Eliminating the African American Academic Achievement Gap - at a conference Sunday at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. It included administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders from the districts.

The report card looked at Missouri Assessment Program scores - which measure student progress at meeting state standards - in mathematics, communication arts and science and in elementary, middle and high schools for each of the 25 districts. The report also includes statistics such as each district's graduation rate, percentage of certified teachers, number of college-bound students and parent-conference attendance.

The report held each school district's strategic action plan to eliminate the gap. By last month, all 25 districts had submitted plans to the Roundtable.

"So you can also know what's working and share with each other," Henson said.

A telling conclusion of the report was that schools with the highest achievement levels among black students - such as Clayton, Webster Groves and Kirkwood - often also had the greatest gap in achievement levels between whites and blacks.

Less often did a school district have both high achievement levels among blacks and the smallest gap. The elementary schools showed the greatest promise, where Hancock Place, Pattonville and St. Louis had both in communication arts. Pattonville also had both in communication arts in the middle and high schools, and Lindbergh did in high school mathematics.

"Prior to this point, no one looked at those two things together," Henson said of the gap and achievement levels. "That's where we can dig in and really start to make a difference."

Another component in the Report Card was information on parental responsibilities and resources. Mary Jo Liberstein, a black parent with two children in the Clayton School District, said parental involvement was the biggest reason for the gap in achievement levels.

Don Senti, the Clayton superintendent, said eliminating the gap while maintaining high achievement levels for everyone was a challenge.

"We hope all students are getting better every year, but that means that African-American students have to do twice as better every year," Senti said. "It's going to get better; I just wish it was going to get better faster."

Posted by Jeff Henriques at November 8, 2005 5:51 PM
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