Report Shows Achievement Gap Among Birmingham Minority, Special Education Students

"It's moral imperative to tackle this issue," says one member of Birmingham Schools' Achievement Gap Committee, which presented to the Birmingham Board of Education on Tuesday.

The performance of Birmingham's minority and special education students continues to be a concern, according to a recent report on the achievement gap at Birmingham Public Schools.

On Tuesday, Berkshire Middle School principal Jason Clinkscale and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Joseph Hoffman discussed the district's achievement gap during the Tuesday night school board meeting — discussing the problem as well as ways to fix it.

"(The achievement gap) isn't just an educational concern," said Clinkscale during a special presentation to the Birmingham Board of Education. "It goes out into the community. It's our moral imperative to tackle this issue."

Co-chaired by Clinkscale and Beverly Elementary School principal Jamii Hitchcock, the district's Achievement Gap Committee is made up of building representatives and works with various district- and county-wide groups, including the Learning Achievement Coalition of Oakland County and the Birmingham African American Family Network.

According to Clinkscale and Hoffman, the goal of the Achievement Gap Committee is to improve learning for all students in Birmingham by taking a look at achievement across the board while identifying intervention strategies that work.

"We recognize these weakness," Hoffman said. "We recognize that we have a lot of work to do."

According to Clinkscale, there are several indicators that may raise a red flag when it comes gaps in student achievement, including classroom grades, attendance, discipline referrals and AP enrollement.

So who has fallen into the "gap" in Birmingham? According to the presentation, minority students are falling behind their white counterparts while those receiving special education services, as well as economically disadvanged students, are even further behind.

Who are the students

The achievement gap study first took a look at the district's racial make-up, as well as the number of students in a special education program and the number of students that receive free or reduced lunch:

Race Percentage of student population White 81.24 percent Black or African American 12.64 percent Asian 3.71 percent Hispanic 1.45 percent Multi-racial 0.68 percent Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 0.14 percent Native American 0.13 percent Special education 10 percent Free or reduced lunch 9.33 percent

According to Hoffman and Clinkscale, Bingham Farms and Greenfield are the most racially diverse elementary schools, Berkshire is the most racially diverse middle school while Groves High School is more diverse than Seaholm.

According to the presentation, 77 percent of students receiving special education services in Birmingham are white, while 36 percent of the students receiving a free or reduced lunch are black.

Taking a look at the tests

Considering achievement is multi-fold, Clinkscale and Hoffman said when they're measuring "achievement," they not only look at scores on the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), but also how many students take AP classes.

Also considered is the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Assessment Program, administered to elementary students; the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress, which measure elementary and middle school math and reading skills; a district writing prompt given to elementary and middle school students; and scores from Algebra I classes.

Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP)

The study took a look at the 2011 MEAP exams for reading and math, administered to Birmingham 3rd through 8th graders in fall 2011.

MEAP reading   Student subgroup Percent proficient TOTAL 86 percent White 88 percent Black 74 percent Free/reduced lunch 73 percent Special education 56 percent MEAP math Student subgroup Percent proficient TOTAL 70 percent White 73 percent Black 45 percent Free/reduced lunch 44 percent Special education 35 percent

For the MME, administered to students in the 11th grade, the study looked at the results from spring 2012. 

MME reading Student subgroup Perfect proficient TOTAL 79 percent White 84 percent Black 54 percent Free/reduced lunch 61 percent Special education 51 percent MME math Student subgroup Perfect proficient TOTAL 63 percent White 71 percent Black 19 percent Free/reduced lunch 36 percent Special education 15 percent

The study also took a look at ACT scores from spring 2012. The ACT test is typically taken by high school juniors.

ACT reading Student subgroup Percent proficient TOTAL 67 percent White 74 percent Black 32 percent Free/reduced lunch 43 percent Special education 31 percent ACT math Student subgroup Percent proficient TOTAL 68 percent White 76 percent Black 27 percent Free/reduced lunch 41 percent Special education 21 percent

What's being done

While collecting and analyzing data is important, Clinkscale said one of the important taks for the district's Achievement Gap Committee is to find solutions.

Birmingham Schools places emphasis on differentiated instruction for all students, Clinkscale said, tailoring instruction and intervention for individual students.

Teachers are also suppored by instructional specialists and reading specialists, he added, while students who are studying English as a second language are given particularly attention.

Districtwide, Clinkscale pointed to dozens of programs, from the districtwide Saturday School — which takes place at Berkshire every Saturday — to specific building programs, whether that's the Beverly Bobcat Academy, the Seaholm Academic Lab or the Harlan Math Intervention.

"There's nothing more powerful for our 5th graders when their teacher says, 'Let me spend a little extra time to help you on that. Wake up a little early on Saturday and come hang out with me,'" Hoffman said.

The achievement gap aside, the report showed Birmingham outperforming school districts across Oakland County and Michigan.

Superintendent Daniel Nerad noted Tuesday night's report was only the beginning of the conversation.

"This is the beginning," he said. "It has to begin by publicly addressing the issue. The ongoing work is to look at the gaps. This begins in the classroom."

School board member Lori Soifer said that the issue of achievement is something that needs to be addressed by stakeholders, including students and parents of minorties, special education students and those students that receive free or reduced lunches.

"Frankly, we do have a problem with getting a lot of parents to attend (our meetings)," she said. "I can't stress the importance of engaging parents in this conversation. This is a partnership ... we all have to own this."

Do you think the achievment gap is a problem at Birmingham Public Schools?

Racer Boy December 21, 2012 at 03:16 PM
This is a cultural parenting issue that the school system is trying to overcome. Until the underperforming groups realize that parenting makes a difference, improvements will be difficult or impossible to achieve. You know you have a problem when you can't generate enough parental interest to even get them to attend a meeting.


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