School board discusses data on achievement gap

Monday, November 10, 2008 | 11:09 p.m. CST; updated 12:17 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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

Missourian reporters Caroline Evans and Danielle Boenisch contributed to this story.

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Kelly Durante November 11, 2008 | 10:31 a.m.

I am astonished by the audacity of our district to claim that losing significant ground in math achievement scores constitutes a success. In the elementary grades, our students did worse on the MAP in math than the state as a whole. Our district’s median math scores on the nationally standardized questions in the elementary grades have dropped precipitously (e.g., from a median of 68% for several years before reform math to a current 52% in fourth graders). Since the stated goals are so low and do not consider the historically outstanding potential of our student body, it is a “success” if we still maintain a puny 2% lead over the national median. We have failed our kids and it is a crime.

Here’s the very worst part of it. While many parents are involved and financially capable of adding real math back into their kids’ education at home, many are not. If you want to address the achievement gap, consider this. We need to give ALL kids, regardless of parental income and means, a high quality, authentic math program so that they will become mathematically literate. The ultimate closure of the achievement gap is in the job market. Growth in the job sector of science and engineering is predicted to triple in the next decades. In order to help our low achieving groups reach placement into these high-paying careers, we must keep our eye on developing an excellent and authentic math program.

This has not yet happened in CPS. In this year of great change and hope, we need to keep focused and continue to demand improvements in the next math curriculum that all of our CPS students will share.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 11, 2008 | 10:39 a.m.

I agree with you Kelly Durante 100% but the facts remain parents would rather sit their children down in front of the gaming system hooked up to the big screen media center surround sound system TV's in their front rooms and family rooms than going to go buy some of the many educational computer programs available on the market so their children can get that added and extra education to advance and succeed as so plainly you have mentioned above.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 11, 2008 | 11:45 a.m.

Ultimately this boils down to effort. If you're not willing to put in the effort to master the fundamentals of math and science, you shouldn't complain when those who do go on to careers that pay six figures right out of college.

Of course, those who make that kind of money will be punished with higher taxes, which will be used to fund remedial classes for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who didn't bother to pay attention in school.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 11, 2008 | 8:20 p.m.

If your children lack emotional maturity, can't read, don't understand language, refuse to follow directions, resent authority, see no point to learning, hate to comply and have a predisposition towards criminal activities, what kind of learning will they be able to demonstrate when given "government" exams?
How many of these "students" also suffer from low I-Q's and stagnated brain development from parent(s) who have lived life with substance abuse?
You can't fix stupid!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 12, 2008 | 4:02 a.m.

ray shapiro I am in total agreement with you 100%

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand November 12, 2008 | 6:48 a.m.

Of course, the district will use these results to argue for more taxes. But spending more -- even a lot more -- doesn't always produce improvement. Case in point: Phyllis Chase's pet project, West Boulevard Elementary, spent more than $15,000 per student. That's $5,000 or more than other CPS elementary schools. Yet black students there still missed the benchmarks.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 12, 2008 | 7:50 a.m.

It can all be traced right back to beginning and continual education taking place with in the home from the time children can understand when you ask them to hold up two fingers.

This one as well is on the parents and not the schools,teachers,school boards,text books or anything or anybody else.

If parents are unwilling to even educate their own children how is anybody else to be held accountable.

(Report Comment)
Dylan Cole November 18, 2008 | 5:47 p.m.

This article is well written and well reported. Kudos to Call.

(Report Comment)

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