COLUMBIA — More than an hour of Monday night's Columbia Public School Board meeting centered around discussion of the achievement gap among the district's students.
Sharon Schattgen, the schools' director of research, assessment and accountability, presented academic data, including standardized test scores. The data analyzed progress toward two of the board's three goals: increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap between students. The district uses 14 standards to measure achievement, including standardized test scores, college and career placement of graduates and graduation and attendance rates. The district met its targets on 13 of the 14 indicators, Schattgen said; it did not meet its goal in respect to the No Child Left Behind yearly progress reports for student subgroups.
Board members discussed at length both the data and the achievement gap between black and white students.
Although the district will likely be accredited with distinction this year for the fifth consecutive time, board member Rosie Tippin said, the gap between students' achievement is "totally unacceptable."
"We've totally missed the boat on closing the gap," she said.
Tippin said everyone needs an understanding of the problems at work before a solution can be reached. In addition to changing teacher education programs, she said it's important to understand the students. She said, for example, that black students are less likely to ask for academic help than their peers, and among young black men, it's not popular to be smart.
"We can't fix the problem," she said. "We don't understand the kids we're trying to serve."
Board president Michelle Gadbois said: "If we're leaving anyone behind, meeting 13 of 14 indicators may not matter.
"We need to move leaps and bounds ahead of where we are," she said.
With Columbia's resources, talent and community support, board member Steve Calloway said the achievement gap is disappointing.
"It's very disheartening to see," he said. "In fact, that we're not even as good as the state (scores) when it comes to our black kids."
Calloway said he was concerned that in the spring, when the board re-evaluates the budget and considers reductions, necessary resources might be taken away from those students. He also said some measures meant to improve all students' performance have had the opposite effect on black students.
Board member Ines Segert said she was pleased to see, for the first time, data from several years presented. Earlier, she said the data reinforced what was demonstrated in the math data the board discussed earlier in the year: Columbia students' math scores are declining, while state averages are increasing.
"That just should not be," she said. "We're clearly not doing something well."
As she spoke at the meeting, her voice shook and she fought back tears. "This is something I've been fighting for," she said of changes to the math curriculum, which she said doesn't prepare kids for standardized tests.
Gadbois announced at the beginning of the meeting that the naming of the district's newest elementary school, which is scheduled to open for the 2009-2010 school year, would be postponed "out of respect for the workers" at that building, where one worker died Monday when a scaffold collapsed.
Also, board member Tom Rose was appointed to the district's transportation committee.
Before the meeting, a group of parents who had protested at the Columbia Police Department earlier in the day protested again. They were asking for school Resource Officer Mark Brotemarkle's removal from Hickman High School following an investigation into his behavior during an Oct. 15 fight at the school. During public comment, a few of the protesters also addressed the board.
Amendments to the district budget to reflect the economy were approved unanimously.
For more about what happened at the new elementary school and about Michelle Gadbois' decision not to run for re-election in April, go to SchoolHouseTalk.wordpress.com.
Missourian reporters Caroline Evans and Danielle Boenisch contributed to this story.