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CHCCS fighting achievement gap

By Isaac Rosso Klakovich

CHCCS is currently trying to fix its achievement gap
CHCCS is currently trying to fix its achievement gap

One of the biggest issues currently facing public schools is the achievement gap between different ethnicities, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district (CHCCS)  is no exception. The district has recognized this as a major problem, and is trying to do as much as possible to solve it.

Even though CHCCS’ achievement gap is on par with, or even smaller, than that of other districts in the state there is still a major discrepancy between the grades and scores of white students and those of minority students.

In general, CHCCS scored better on state end-of year tests than most schools with 71.7 percent of all such tests being passed in 2013, compared to 44.1 percent in the rest of the state, though the percentage of white and Asian students who passed far superseded that of all other student groups. White and Asian students passed 83.4 and 77.5 percent of their end-of-year tests, respectively. Black and Hispanic students on the other hand, did not score as favorably, with 28.4 and 47.7 percent of students passing, respectively. Students who are considered economically disadvantaged (qualify for free or reduced lunch) also didn’t fare as well, with only 31 percent of their tests passing.

The district’s concerns go beyond test taking with achievement gaps occurring in a variety of areas. One of these being the enrollment in gifted and challenging programs, where only five percent of black and Hispanic students participate, according to The News & Observer. This puts minority students on a track where it will be harder for them to succeed and score well on tests.

Another issue is the comparative amount of students getting in trouble. Last year, three times as many black students were sent to the office as white students and black students were suspended eight times as often as white students, reported the The News & Observer. This is especially disconcerting considering that there are more white students than black students in the district.

Many people in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community have been very vocal about their issues with the achievement gap. None more than the local coalition that have built the Campaign for Racial Equity in our Schools. Over a month ago the group congregated outside Lincoln Center with signs that requested changes to lessen the achievement gap.

“What is masked in the numbers is a tale of two school districts: one that serves its white students very well, while black and brown students have a very different set of educational experiences,” stated the coalition in a recent written report.

“When you walk into classrooms you can identify the level based on the ethnic percentages represented,” stated former CHCCS science teacher Judy Jones. “Standard classes have an abundance of students of color, while honors and Advanced Placement classes will often have only one student of color, if that.”

Judy Jones speaks against the achievement gap in CHCCS
Judy Jones speaks against the achievement gap in CHCCS

One of the main ways the district is hoping to solve this problem is by implementing Project ADVANCE. This system will give teachers salary increases for meeting certain criteria set by the district. This includes a teacher’s sponsorship of extra curricular activities, being a leader in the school, and teaching in a way that will help students succeed.

Despite all these issues, the achievement gap is shrinking in the district. One of the most impressive strides that has been made is in the reading level of black students. While a mere 19.4 percent of black students were reading at their grade level in 2013, 43.9 percent are reading at their grade level now. Another improvement comes in the percentage of black students scoring proficient on end of year tests. From 2013 to 2015, that percentage has increased from 26.9 to 44.3 percent.

“We feel we’re in a better place than we were five years ago,” explained Superintendent Tom Forcella. “Is it good enough? No, it’s not good enough; 45 percent proficient is not good enough.”

This dedication is what the coalition and general public are hoping for and if this trend continues the achievement gap looks to continuously shrink significantly in the coming years.

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