Our Black Students and Families Deserve Better

The breakout movie, Hidden Figures, poignantly reminds us that when we provide Black children with the opportunity to reach their full potential they can become phenomenal mathematicians and change the world. Over 50 years since Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson made history, competency in Math remains a requirement to secure the future’s highest paying jobs and succeed in the fields of Science, Technology, and Engineering.

This makes it all the more devastating that in six (6) of our District schools, 0% of our Black students achieved grade level proficiency in Math last year.

To put that into further perspective, not one Black child in the 11th grade who started in kindergarten or transferred into the DeAnza or Kennedy Families of schools achieved grade level competency in Math by the start of their senior year, despite having spent as many as 12 years in our classrooms.

By no means do these results reflect the potential of Black students in our District to succeed in Math; rather, they are evidence of our failure to operate schools that bring that potential out of them. Every single child regardless of their race or means has the potential to be a brilliant mathematician. It is our job as adults and educators to help them achieve their goals.

Failure to lift our Black students up to grade level proficiency in Math extends beyond those six schools. Only 1% of Black students at Lovonya DeJean met grade level standards in Math last year and in Bayview, Downer, King, Peres, and Wilson Elementary Schools, Helms Middle School, and El Cerrito High School, no more than 5% of Black students met the grade level standards in Math.

A host of other schools are struggling to drive Black student achievement above 10% including Coronado, Ford and Lake Elementary Schools, Crespi Middle School, Making Waves Academy, and Richmond and Pinole Valley High Schools.

The SBAC assessments, which measure academic achievement, are just one datapoint to understand student success. Data showing academic growth, which tells a more nuanced story, is our preferred measure, although not a publicly available one. With the data set we do have access to, it’s clear there is a systemic failure affecting Black students.

District-wide, when barely 1 out of every 10 Black students is finishing 11th grade ready for college or a career in STEM, it’s clear that all of us must urgently align around a solution.

Bright Spots

Some helpful answers for ensuring our Black students live up to their potential may be found in several bright spots within our own District. District staff and principals of underperforming schools should be visiting the following schools to identify and learn effective practices, systems, and structures that are already showing impact.

  • Hanna Ranch Elementary has raised the percentage of Black students reaching proficiency in Math by 16% over the past three years and outpaced the statewide average in 2017 with 36% of Black students meeting grade level standards. They have achieved those gains with all Black students, including those from low income families.
  • Olinda Elementary has exceeded the statewide average for Black student Math achievement for each of the last three years. Their scores are promising and enduring; however, it should be noted that none of the students tested in 2017 were low income students.
  • Richmond College Prep (RCP) saw a drop in Math scores among Black students this year. However, they moved the largest number of Black students to grade level, with 29% of all Black students and 27% of low income Black students meeting the standards. RCP has the second largest Black student population in the District at 36% of all students (second only to Stege Elementary at 55%).
  • Summit Tamalpais, a new charter school serving only 7th graders in 2017 warrants attention as well, with 37% of all Black students and 33% of low income Black students reaching proficiency in Math in the first year of the school’s existence.
  • Other notable gains are evident in a handful of schools that have raised Black student achievement in Math by double digits over the past 2-3 years: Grant (+13), Lupine Hills (+11), Nystrom (+10), Riverside (+13), Shannon (+10), and Verde (+11) Elementary Schools.

What actions has the District taken?

Unfortunately, it is hard to find evidence that the District has taken significant action to raise Black student achievement in Math, particularly at the schools where results are alarmingly low. Not one of the three focus initiatives in the District’s Roadmap to 2022 focuses on Math, let alone Math achievement of our Black students. The LCAP allocates over $750,000 specifically to support African American students and their families, but there are no actions or services outlined in the LCAP that explicitly focuses on Math achievement among Black students.

The District is funding several tutoring programs and the promising services of Partners in School Innovation to address underperformance in select schools – but no systemic acknowledgement, District-wide solution, or specific goals have been presented to date.

What action is needed?

There are steps we can and must take to begin ensuring Black student achievement in Math. If implemented together as a comprehensive solution to addressing Black student achievement, these recommendations can have significant impact.

Make this a Part of the Roadmap to 2022

The District should add an initiative to the Roadmap that explicitly focuses time and resources on supporting Black students in Math.

The jury is still out on just how effective the Roadmap will be in actually driving student achievement. Still, considering that it comes from our Superintendent and focuses the resources and attention of District staff and the Board of Education, it must acknowledge that Black student achievement in Math is one of our biggest academic crises. We cannot accept that devastatingly low Math achievement among Black students will have to wait until after 2022 to become a key area for improvement. We must offer our students something more urgent and more effective right away.

Unhide the Figures

There should be a public, mid-year update on Black student progress in Math, using interim assessment data.

According to Superintendent Duffy and District staff, every student district-wide will take either the STAR Math or SBAC Interim Assessments at several intervals throughout the year. Measuring the growth of every student several times over the course of the year is a big step forward and should be acknowledged as progress.

To ensure that data is informing action, we should demand that the District provide a public mid-year update to the Board using data from the interim assessments. The update should show progress toward Math proficiency among Black students District-wide and, specifically, at the 20 schools identified in this post as the most underperforming. Schools should be held accountable for using interim assessment data to plan and implement ways of addressing areas of concern – throughout the school year, not only when the year is over.

Develop Teachers’ Instructional Practice

Schools, especially the most underperforming, should be provided rigorous and effective professional development focused on student achievement in Math.

This year the District made a significant investment to train 10 principals on effective Common Core Math instruction offered through the REACH Institute. This is a step forward: Nystrom and Verde Elementary Schools, which have generated growth of 10% or more over the past 3 years, are among those schools receiving the REACH training. However, only two significantly underperforming schools, Chavez and Peres Elementary are part of the group receiving the training. In the remaining 18 schools where 10% or less of their Black students reached grade level proficiency, no significant or publicly shared professional development is being offered.

The District must plan and implement a suitable and effective professional development program to drive Black student achievement in Math at our lowest performing schools. The professional development provided should hold all the hallmarks of effectiveness as outlined by the Learning Policy Institute: be content focused, incorporate active learning among teachers, support collaboration, provide effective models of practice, include ongoing coaching and support, offer feedback and reflection, and be provided for a sustained duration.

Drive Positive School Culture with Student Achievement

The District should emphasize effective instruction to improve school culture and student achievement.

With the support of UTR leadership and community organizations like RYSE and Mindful Life Project, our District is putting a tremendous amount of work into ending willful defiance suspensions and expulsions and implementing strategies that drive positive school cultures. The District can strengthen this important and meaningful work even more by emphasizing the impact great instruction and student achievement has on school culture.

Highly effective and engaging instruction is the best classroom management tool. There is a direct link between systemic failure to drive academic achievement among Black students and the disproportionate use of willful defiance suspensions and expulsions. When students are deeply engaged in mastering skills and content, they are occupied with learning and contributing to a positive classroom culture. Dramatically improving Math instruction will not only decrease student misconduct, but also lead to improved school culture and academic achievement.

Train Up Our African-American Parent Advisory Councils

Well trained AAPACS will play a powerful role in the solution to improve Black student achievement.

Through LCAP funds, the District is making a sizeable investment in school-based African-American Parent Advisory Councils (AAPACs). During a recent board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Rashidchi shared that the District is building a training curriculum to support the implementation of AAPACs. This is an opportunity to build capacity within the AAPAC members to define measureable and attainable goals in Math achievement for Black students at their schools and hold school sites accountable for achieving those goals.

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Learn more by downloading this file, which includes Black student achievement data in Math for all West Contra Costa schools over three years.

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