Education

Minority students in Kentucky face barriers in classroom, Prichard report says

C.B. Akins, study group co-chairman, delivered remarks during a Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence news conference Thursday at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort. Akins talked about a new report on the academic achievement gap in the state’s schools.
C.B. Akins, study group co-chairman, delivered remarks during a Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence news conference Thursday at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort. Akins talked about a new report on the academic achievement gap in the state’s schools. palcala@herald-leader.com

Black students in Kentucky were suspended four times more often than white students in 2015, according to a report released Thursday.

Hispanic students and black students were identified as gifted and talented less than half as often as white students, according to the report, which examined the academic achievement gap between minority students and other students.

In Kentucky classrooms, more than 95 percent of teachers are white, but only 79 percent of students are. That disproportion means many students never learn from a teacher of color, the report said.

Kentucky isn’t doing enough to close the achievement gaps that persist among various groups of students, according to the report from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, released at a Frankfort news conference.

Students most likely to face barriers include those with low family incomes, who are learning English; who have learning disabilities; or who are black, Hispanic or Latino, or American Indian/native Alaskan, the report said.

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The report, “Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business,” followed a detailed review by the committee’s Achievement Gap Study Group about the challenges of moving all students to high academic performance.

“We can close the achievement gap if we are willing to consistently implement strategies that are backed by empirical data. This report rebukes the need for further study of what we should do, and challenges all who are strategically positioned to make a difference by doing what we already know will work,” said Lexington minister C.B. Akins, co-chairman of the Achievement Gap Study Group.

For years, Akins has been a vocal advocate of closing the achievement gap among various ethnic and economic groups in Fayette County schools, and he has previously served on the Kentucky Board of Education.

“Education equals opportunity,” the report said. “But far too many Kentucky students are being denied that opportunity as a result of an education system that has failed to erase barriers due to race, income, language and learning differences.”

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Among the findings of the report:

▪  Gaps are already visible at the start of kindergarten, making early-childhood programs essential.

▪  Most gaps expand from kindergarten to graduation, confirming that improvement is needed at all grade levels.

▪  Disciplinary consequences are much harsher for students of some races than for others.

In addition to the differences in how black and white students were given out-of-school suspensions, black students were given in-school suspensions three times more often than white students.

Students of two or more races were subject to suspension and removal twice as often as white students.

These differences are large enough to have a significant impact on the excluded students’ opportunities to learn, the report said. They also are large enough to affect other students’ thinking about whether school is a place where they can expect to be welcomed and respected.

Identification of students with disabilities and gifted and talented students appears to lack equity, the report said.

Hispanic and black students are identified as gifted and talented less than half as often as white students. Students with low family incomes are identified one-third as often as those who are better off economically, and students with limited English proficiency and learning differences are rarely identified.

To remedy a lack of diversity among Kentucky’s teachers, the state would need to add 2,950 black teachers, 2,096 Hispanic teachers and 1,836 teachers who are Asian or other races, according to the report.

Kentucky’s current and former education commissioners have told Fayette County school officials that they need to close the achievement gap in that district. Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk says he is launching a multi-faceted approach to make that happen, including establishing an office for educating boys of color.

Overall student results have improved over the last decade, but the report said the achievement gaps have grown. As an example, between 2005 and 2015, Kentucky’s fourth-grade reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased 8 percent for black students and 11 percent for white students, 7 percent for students receiving free or reduced-price meals and 18 percent for students not receiving those meals, and 5 percent for students with identified disabilities and 12 percent for students without disabilities.

The report calls for leadership at the state and community levels, improvements in school climate and culture to support students and families, classroom instruction that engages each student, accountability to ensure improvement in student performance, and a clear focus on sustaining the work.

“We plan to use this valuable report as a platform for an aggressive and consistent effort in the months ahead to galvanize support — among community and business leaders, advocates, policymakers and others — to move with urgency to increase achievement for all students and close academic gaps,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee.

“This is not only a matter of critical importance to the lives of students and their families; it is key to ensuring the economic growth and prosperity of Kentucky.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

Read the report on Kentucky’s achievement gap here: http://bit.ly/2bAemn4

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