After years of talk, it's time for action.
That is the sentiment members of Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council expressed during a meeting last week. Several members say they have lost patience with a district that has made little progress in eliminating gaps for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students.
Members of the council, charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the Fayette County Board of Education, made the comments after reviewing a draft of the district's fourth annual equity scorecard. The scorecard, which includes the 2008 through 2013 school years, is a snapshot that tracks student performance. It is a joint project between the district and 16-member Equity Council, which include citizens and district officials such as school board chairman John Price.
At a meeting Tuesday of the Equity Council, several members said years of recommendations, programs and new initiatives have done little to help students advance and close a learning gap that has lingered for years.
"We've talked and we've talked and we've talked," council chair Roy Woods told the Herald-Leader. "We have no forward movement. Programs are out there, but it's not working for all kids."
In fact, the scorecard showed that the achievement gap widened. Data detailing the gap between white and minority students who were ready for careers and college were described in the report as "disheartening."
Ron Langley, an equity council member who worked on the report, said the data raised the question of whether some minority students were placed in special education erroneously. Last year, 13.8 percent of black students were identified as having a disability; 9.1 percent of white students received that designation.
(In 2012-13, 57 percent of the student population was white, 22.3 percent black, 12.4 percent Hispanic and 4.2 percent Asian. Overall, 50.6 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunch.)
But the scorecard did not just point out issues with students. It also showed that minority groups were significantly underrepresented among teachers and principals.
Other highlights from the scorecard:
■ The number of distinguished and proficient students on the state's new K-Prep tests for all groups was lower than previous years. Most of the gaps were larger than previously observed, some significantly.
■ On the positive side, the scorecard said, all groups made improvements during 2012-13 in reading, and most made improvements in math. The exception was that the percentage of distinguished and proficient students in math who were black, Asian or had an identified disability remained the same or declined slightly. In 2012-13, 33.3 percent of black students scored proficient in reading compared to 68.4 percent of whites.
■ Higher percentages of students from all groups, except for Hispanics, were more college- and career-ready than in 2012. But almost all the gaps increased.
■ Aside from a small increase in enrollment for most groups in 2009-10, there has been a decrease in participation in gifted and talented programs for almost all of the subgroups, except for Hispanics and students who did not receive free or reduced-price lunch.
■ Enrollment gaps for those taking high-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses increased between white students and most minorities. There also were gaps between socioeconomic groups and students with identified disabilities.
■ In the area of staff diversity, the most diverse group of employees in the district continues to be paraprofessionals or unlicensed employees and service employees, including cafeteria and janitorial staffs. While that group mirrors the diversity of the black student population, other minority groups are significantly underrepresented.
No specific solutions have been offered. But the Equity Council will spend the next month reviewing the data in preparation for an Oct. 13 meeting with the school board.
The Rev. C.B. Akins of First Baptist Church Bracktown expressed frustration at last week's Equity Council meeting.
"If you're telling me that you've got a lot of efforts in the district that have brought about no substantive change in five years, it would seem to me that somebody ought to say, 'We need some new efforts because what we are doing is not working,'" he said.
Price, the school board chair, told the council he was open to any recommendations. "It seems we've been intentional, but we've had no results," he said.
Superintendent Tom Shelton, in a letter attached to the scorecard, was apologetic.
"The numbers you will find in this equity scorecard haunt me," Shelton said. "The simple truth is that we are not reaching all kids."
The goal of the scorecard is to eliminate race, economic status, disability and gender "as predictors of success in the Fayette County Public Schools."
The scorecard outlined several programs the district initiated to close the gaps.
Shelton said in his letter that progress was being made, "but we are past the point of incremental gains. Our kids have waited too long for substantial progress.
"We have to recommit ourselves each and every day to think differently about learning, to reinventing how we approach education and to insisting that every classroom is a place worthy of all of our sons or daughters."