Equity report on Fayette schools finds stubborn achievement gaps

Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton
Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton

Despite some improvements, minority, disabled and low-income students in Fayette County Public Schools continue to trail their classmates in many areas, particularly new measures such as college and career readiness, a new report shows.

For example, 25.7 percent of black students in county schools were deemed ready for college or careers in 2011-12, compared with 66.9 percent of white students.

Only 29.4 percent of students on free and reduced-price lunch were college ready or career ready, compared with 65.3 percent of students who paid for their lunches. Students with disabilities fared worse, with just 7.3 percent considered college and career ready.

The data are contained in the Fayette Equity Council's third annual Equity Scorecard, which charts achievement gaps among various student subgroups across the district.

Equity Council chairman Roy Woods presented the 2013 report to the Board of Education Monday night, emphasizing that improvement was needed.

"We want to make sure this document is not something that rests on the shelf and collects a lot of dust," he said. "Are we satisfied with what we are seeing at this point in time? If we are, we all need to get up and go home. But if we are not, we need to sit down and look at what can be done to move this whole district forward."

The 50-page report shows that traditional achievement gaps continue among minority, low-income and disabled students and their classmates in academic areas such as reading and math. But some of the most stark differences were in more overall measures.

For example, the district's graduation rate for black students in 2011-12 was 69.2 percent, up from 59.2 percent in 2007-08. The graduation rate for white students, however, was 81.6 percent. It was 76.6 percent for Hispanic students and 100 percent for Asians.

In another measure, 4.2 percent of white students were suspended from school in 2011-12, compared with 15 percent of black students. Among low-income students, 8.5 percent were suspended, the report says, compared with 5 percent of students who were better off financially.

Sixteen percent of disabled students were suspended during 2011-12, the report said, compared with 5.8 percent of non-disabled students.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said some of the numbers were "alarming," and he pledged that the school system would make changes. "If we continue to do things we've always done," he said, "we will get the results we've always had."

He cited suspension rates as an area of particular concern, saying he favored an end to the practice of suspending students as discipline. In most instances, pulling students out of class and sending them home as punishment doesn't help their education, he said.

Woods and other equity council members said the district needed to develop a more immediate system of monitoring equity issues, rather than waiting for the annual report.