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August 10, 2007

District SLC Grant - Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 2

An earlier posting examined the results of the small school initiative at Memorial high school. This post aims to examine West's SLC grant. Similar to the Memorial grant, the goal of West's SLC grant was to reduce the achievement gap and to increase students' sense of community.

The final report is a major source of frustration for anyone who values data analysis and statistics. Essentially, there are no statistics reported. The data is presented in figures that are cluttered and too small, which makes them difficult to interpret. Changes over time are discussed as trends without any sort of statistical tests being reported. Most of the data presented are no more detailed than what anyone can pull off the DPI web site.

Before examining the impact of West's restructuring on student achievement and on students' connection to the school, it is necessary to identify just a few of the components of the West proposal that were never enacted:

  • "C.2.c Advocate Mentor. Each student will have an adult advocate from their learning community (LC) who stays with them through their years at West. Students will meet weekly with their advocate to review academic progress and attendance, preview the upcoming week, discuss school or personal issues, etc." A rather ambitious aspect of the proposal, and considering District finances a totally unrealistic proposal. It was not implemented.
  • "C.2.d. Academic/Career Pathways. Beginning early in freshman year, each student will work with their LC guidance counselor and parent(s) to develop an Individualized Graduation Plan (IGP) that includes (1) personal, academic, and career/avocation exploration goals, and (2) academic coursework and learning experiences beyond the classroom that help students achieve these goals. Updated periodically, the IGP will be based on the student's academic record and a current assessment of their skills and competencies, intellectual interests, and personality." As far as I know, this never happened, at the very least parents were never involved.
  • "C.5.e. Strategies for securing/maintaining staff, community, and parent buy-in. ... We will provide frequent formal (e.g., surveys, focus groups) and informal chances for staff and other stakeholders to raise concerns with the project leadership (Principal and hired project staff)." Parents were never surveyed and the only focus groups that I am aware of were two meetings conducted following parents' uproar over English 10 ...
    "The SLC Coordinator will also provide frequent progress reports through a variety of school and community-based media (e.g., special staff newsletter and memos from the principal; school newsletter sent home; media coverage of positive developments, etc.). Also our community partners will serve as ambassadors for the project via communications to their respective constituencies." There were two presentations to the PTSO summarizing the results of the grant. I am not aware of anything in the school newsletter or in the "media" that reported on the results of the restructuring.
  • "E.1 Overall Evaluation Strategy
    Third-Party Evaluator. ... He will develop survey instruments and analyze the formative and summative data described below, and prepare annual reports of his findings for all stakeholder groups. Parents (one of the stakeholders) never received annual reports from the evaluator, and I have no idea about what surveys were or were not developed ...
    Also the outcome data for West will be compared to the same data elements for a school with similar demographic characteristics that is not restructuring into learning communities." Rather than comparing West's outcome data to a comparable school, the final report compares West's data to the District's data.
  • Finally, one of the goals of the grant (2.f. Parent Participation) was to increase the % of parents of color who attend school functions. This data was to come from attendance logs collected by the LC Assistant Principals. This objective is not even listed as one of the goals on the Final Report, and if attendance at PTSO meetings is any indicator, the SLC grant had no impact on the participation of parents of color. It is interesting to note that the recently submitted high school redesign grant does not include any efforts at increasing parental participation. Given the extensive literature on the importance of parental involvement, especially for low income students (see the recent meta analysis by Jeynes (2007) in Urban Education, Vol. 42, pp. 82-110), it is disappointing to see that the District has given up on this goal.

On to the data...

Academic Achievement

  • Goal 1.a. Attendance - "Attendance rates for many sub-groups of students have declined since the 2000-01 school year, and a number of them remain below the district target of 94%." (p. 19) In fact, the only groups that have shown an increase in attendance over this period of time are white and non-low income students.
  • Goal 1.b. Access to challenging coursework - The data on page 21 of the final report show that enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has declined for ELL and Other Asian students, remained unchanged for African American students and had a slight increase for Hispanic students, "... and the gap among groups persists."
  • Goal 1.c. College Entrance Exams - "Participation in the ACT is up slightly, but down for the SAT over the last few years. Disaggregated data for the ACT show the persisting gap across racial/ethnic groups." (p.21) While more than 60% of white students take the ACT, the percentage of minority students taking this test has essentially not changed, and is still below 10%.
  • Goal 1.d. Grade Point Average - "Trends in overall GPA’s are flat or increasing for some groups, but decreases for ELL students, Hispanic students, and students who are not low income (after steadily rising) are troublesome. GPA’s for students of color, low income students, and students with disabilities remain well below those for White, Asian, and economically advantaged." (p.19) Only White and Other Asian students show increases in gpa over the last five years. For an indication of the extent of the achievement gap, the average gpa of African American and low income students was less than 2.0 for the last year data was available, while White students had gpa's of over 3.0. The difference between groups has only gotten larger in the last five years.
  • Goal 1.e. Content Area Proficiency - There is some indication from WKCE scores that the restructuring has benefitted some students: "In comparison to the MMSD as a whole (shown below), the increase in percent of students at the advanced and proficient levels was greater for West for 6 of 9 student sub-groups in reading and 7 of 9 in math." The increases for West's White and limited English proficiency (LEP) students, however, were smaller than their counterparts across the District.

    A major goal of West's SLC grant was to reduce the achievement gap. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the school is making progress in this area. Recall that the first year of the grant was 2003/04, and in that year the only impact of the restructuring was that students were assigned to SLC's. It was not until the next year that students began to be assigned to their core courses within their SLC, i.e., changes in curriculum began in 2004/05. Looking at the table below, we can see that the achievement gap, as reflected in WKCE scores, is unchanged since 2003/04.

    WKCE 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07
    African American 34.0 53.7 51.5 50.7 53.5*
    Hispanic 35.0* 52.3 40.7* 60.5 40.0
    White 91.0 92.1 93.9 94.2 90.4
    Low Income 34.0 48.6 44.0 48.2 34.7
    Not Low Income 88.0 88.5 88.1 92 92.7
    African American 31.0 48.1 39.7 38.7 51.2*
    Hispanic 45.0* 50.0 40.7* 55.8 42.2
    White 91.0 91.5 90.3 93.5 92.1
    Low Income 35.0 48.6 38.5 43.0 46.5
    Not Low Income 88.0 88.0 83.1 91.2 92.7
    * note. includes 4 Native American students 02/03 and 06/07, 1 Native American student 03/04

  • Goal 1.f. Graduation - "With some fluctuation, trends are in the right direction for all groups except student with disabilities. The gaps in graduation rates among the different groups merit ongoing attention." (p.20) However, when we look at this figure, we see that it only presents data through 2004/05, and there is no change in the graduation rates for the two years of the grant for Hispanic or African American students.

    Given the data that West presents in their final report, one would be hard pressed to say that the restructuring has had a positive impact on student performance, and it appears that it failing in several major areas such as decreasing the achievement gap, increasing parental participation, and increasing attendance. I'll examine the issue of School Community and Connectedness in another post, but I'll leave you with this tidbit: the Final Report does not include any data from the student climate surveys.

    Posted by Jeff Henriques at August 10, 2007 12:24 AM
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