Op-Ed

Jacques J. Wigginton: Fayette schools failing more than just 'gap' students

The Rev. Jacques J. Wigginton, a former Urban County Council member, is  pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.
The Rev. Jacques J. Wigginton, a former Urban County Council member, is pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.

My daughter recently brought home her report card. My job was to review, discuss and sign it, making adjustments and setting up a meeting to talk about it if necessary.

Recently, Fayette County Public Schools also got its report card from the state.

Like me, the school board is charged with the responsibility of reviewing, discussing and signing off on it, making adjustments and setting up meetings if necessary.

So, how did the district do?

Students in grades 3-12 are tested in various skills and subjects and rated as Novice, Apprentice, Proficient or Distinguished. As parents, we understand letter grades. Distinguished means successful — it's our A's and B's.

Proficient means competent so it's our C. Apprentice means learning when you should be knowing — our D. Novice means the tested material was like new to you — our F.

Having letter grades, we have a sense of how our children are doing, but again, how is the district doing?

According to data in the fourth annual FCPS equity scorecard released earlier this year:

■ 9,670 or 49 percent of all students tested as Novice or Apprentice in math, meaning the district got a D or F in teaching math to nearly half of all kids.

■ 66 percent of the "gap" students tested Novice or Apprentice in math, meaning the District got a D or F in teaching math to two-thirds of children of color and those who are disabled, poor or have limited English proficiency.

■ 72 percent of the black students tested Novice or apprentice, meaning the district got a D or F in teaching nearly three-fourths of the African-American children to do math at grade level.

But math is tough, you say — that's difficult stuff for most of us, right? What about reading?

■ 8,468, or 42 percent of students, tested as Novice or Apprentice in reading. That means the district got a D or an F in teaching reading to 42 percent of kids.

■ 59 percent of the "gap" students tested Novice or Apprentice in reading, meaning the district got a D or F in teaching over half of "gap kids" (poor, children of color, those with disabilities) to read to grade level

■ 64 percent of the African-American students tested Novice or Apprentice in reading, meaning the district got a D or F in teaching nearly two-thirds of the black students how to read to grade level.

Within such statistics can certainly be found achievement gaps between groups of students, and it behooves us all to have those gaps closed.

However, the annual achievement gap folly-volley has our focus misdirected.

Currently, achievement gap talk feeds dangerous assumptions. It not only feeds the presumption that education woes are relegated to a few areas and pockets of people, but it reinforces the assumption that our system is basically working just fine.

The district typically presents data in annual increments, not as aerial snapshots. Thus, when people hear things are up or down a few points here and there, no alarms go off. Why? Many assume the system is working.

The necessary comparison of one group to another has far too many missing the big-picture reality that the system is proving inadequate as a whole.

Characterize the issue as one where poor and minority children are educationally fighting the flu while all other kids are fighting a cold if you want, but the bottom line remains that far too many, nearly half — of all our children — are academically sick and suffering.

Focusing on the achievement gap is functionally operating as a smokescreen covering the larger, more universal problem: Our beloved Fayette County school system is not making the grade in teaching our children the basics.

  Comments