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'Achievement gap' eyed in county

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County Public Schools has put strategies in place to help address the achievement gap.

Superintendent Jared Cotton said efforts initially will focus on the racial minority achievement gap but eventually may address other subgroups such as English Language Learners and special education students.

He said African-Americans are the largest racial minority group in the county and Hispanics the second largest.

Among the strategies is creation of an equity council or diversity task force to help the system address diversity issues, including achievement and opportunity gaps. The council or task force will have a diverse membership from HCPS staff and the community.

Cotton said he envisions the equity council or diversity task force will identify measures that will be used to assess progress in addressing gaps; using these measures, to report baseline data to the school board and HCPS administrators; and set targets and create a time line for reporting on HCPS progress. He said also envisions that body will enlist broader community support and develop resources for teachers to help close the achievement gap and resources for parents to support their role as partners in addressing student achievement.

An example of a teacher resource, he said, could be online educational strategies from highly effective teachers. An example of a parent resource could be along the lines of ParentConnect on the HCPS website, which provides a variety of helps, resources and advice and checklists for academic success. If learning doesn’t start early, catch-up likely will be necessary, Cotton said.

He added that he hopes the equity council or diversity task force will be formed in September. He said he is leaning toward calling the body the equity council and that it also would look at poverty and other factors that can impact student achievement.

Following are some of the highlights of a report Cotton gave to the Henry County School Board at its special meeting and retreat Tuesday. He made some additional comments in a phone interview Thursday night.

The Read 180 reading intervention program has been implemented at all levels (elementary, middle and high schools).

SRI, an assessment, is being used to assess reading at the end of select grade levels.

The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment — a norm-referenced measure of student growth over time — has been implemented for grades K-8 in reading, mathematics and language.

HCPS has set the expectation that middle and high school principals identify minority students who are ready for the challenge of advanced course work.

The division has initiated the development of a new curriculum that will provide rigorous (challenging), relevant (related to real life) learning opportunities for all students.

The division has required secondary principals and guidance counselors to visit Patrick Henry Community College to learn about college and career opportunities for students.

It has initiated PHCC tours for all seventh-grade students.

HCPS has improved communication to students and families about educational opportunities in HCPS.

It has set the expectation that all schools will operate as professional learning communities focused on student learning (educators focused on the learning of all students, not just my students).

The division has developed a teaching and learning framework to provide clear expectations for instruction in HCPS.

It has implemented new teacher and principal evaluation systems, which include student achievement measures.

HCPS has created college and career readiness objectives for schools to monitor and improve.

It has implemented PD 360, an online library of professional development video programs.

The division also plans to work collaboratively to develop required diversity training for HCPS staff.

The division plans to develop and provide training for guidance counselors to use PSAT and other assessment data to identify minority students who should be encouraged to take on the challenge of advanced coursework.

HCPS also plans to initiate focus groups with minority students at middle and high schools. Cotton said he thinks Garrett Dillard, the school division’s coordinator of regional alternative and athletics, will be a “great person” to lead focus groups with minority students, asking about such things as why some may not be taking part in educational opportunities.


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