Someone asked me have the academic test scores and amount of discipline referrals of Black kids in Fayette County Public School improved in the last three years. It had been three years since the Equity Scorecard had been published which collected this kind of data for the public. Coincidently, the district also no longer provides this type of data on their website in a user-friendly way to answer such questions. However, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) provided the necessary information to show how students/schools across the state are performing.
KDE has not officially released the 2018 District/School Report Cards but they provide the raw data on their website. To answer the question, we will look at a small sample of students in Fayette County Public School. Let’s look at the 11th grade ACT scores for the last three years (2015-2018). The ACT composite scores for all five of high schools in Fayette County Public School were slightly lower in 2018 than in 2015. They all are approximately between 20-22 (an average score of 20 on the ACT which is not exactly “college scholarship worthy” but it is aligned to the State average). More specifically, the data showed that students who attend Henry Clay High School, Lafayette High School, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar high schools have an average score above the 20 average on the ACT. Whereas, students that attend Bryan Station High School and Frederick Douglas High School has an average ACT score that is noticeably lower than the average of 20 and is considered not to be “college and career ready”. These two high schools have an average ACT score of 17. The question that we need to be asking is: What is unique about these two high schools?
The following is from the 2017 School Report Card of Bryan Station High School and Lafayette High School (NOTE: Frederick Douglas High School is a new school and Lafayette was chosen because it is a high school that do not include a program specifically for students identified as academically gifted/talented):
Demographic Data Bryan Station Lafayette High School High School District
Number of students 1,831 2, 157 40.404
White students 38% 70% 52%
African American students 35% 16% 22%
Hispanic students 20% 6% 16%
Free/Reduced lunch students 68% 38% 54%
Attendance rate 89% 93% 94%
Drop-out rate 3.2% 1.3% 1.6%
Special Education students 10% 7% 10%
Gifted students 10% 35% 17%
White Students – Disciplined 21% 41% 28%
African American students - Disciplined 58% 48% 54%
Hispanic students - Disciplined 16% 7% 11%
Males-Disciplined 65% 70% 72%
Females-Disciplined 34% 30% 27%
Teacher Turn-Over 20% 8% 21%
We should consider the following key differences in demographic data for Bryan Station High School because they have been historically known to contribute to below academic performance like ACT scores: The racial makeup, the number of students who receive free/reduced lunch (as a measure of income level), drop-out rate, number of students who receive special education services, attendance rate, teacher turn-over, and discipline referrals by race of student. In fact, we will mostly find that the five group of students have historically performed below the state academic standards (i.e., African American students, Hispanic students, Students who are Economically Disadvantaged, Students who receive Special Education services, and students who speak English as a second language) attend Bryan Station High School than other high schools. Potential areas for improvement should include the district zoning policy and school finance policy to change the demographics of schools and to ensure that funding is focused on schools that have the most student needs.
We recently learned that 7 of the Elementary Schools in FCPS* were identified by the Kentucky Department of Education as requiring Comprehensive Support and Interventions (CSI) because their students’ state test scores fall in the bottom 5% of all schools across the state. The following are the 7 schools as well as one additional elementary schools that will receive these interventions: Arlington Elementary; Coventry Oak Elementary; Harrison Elementary; Mary Todd Elementary; William Wells Brown Elementary; Millcreek Elementary; Yates Elementary *Also Booker T. Washington Elementary
One of the primary interventions that FCPS is implementing this week in the above schools is called the “Acceleration Learning Labs”. These “labs” will take place after school twice a week for students who scored 40% or below on Reading and Math MAP tests (tests given in the schools every quarter to gauge academic progress). Other interventions to support students are included in the “Safety Investment Plan” like additional mental health professionals in the schools
It is no coincidence that most of the schools listed above as having students with the lowest academic performances are located in the lower income communities of Lexington. Students that live in poverty-stricken communities usually attend neighborhood schools with a lot of needs and limited resources. These schools face inequities in school funding and resources, teachers that are less experienced, and increased drugs/violence in their neighborhoods.
Q: How can we support low performing schools in FCPS?
A: Hold our Leaders (Mayor and City Council Members) responsible for improving poverty-stricken communities across the city of Lexington.
Luckily, we are embarking on new leadership for the city by electing Linda Gordon for Mayor and several new council members. In Gorton’s “Vision for Lexington”, she stated the following goals that could help the students and families in communities where these schools are located:
“Expand the great work of One Lexington, broadening its function to make all neighborhoods safer.”
“In collaboration with our schools, it will promote at-risk youth mentoring programs and address all aspects of children’s safety, in school and out.”
“Direct public safety commissioner and chiefs to make sure community policing is standard practice and ensure diversity in hiring is a top priority.”
“Appoint a liaison dedicated to working with our schools to assess disparities across communities and identify barriers in our children’s environments that are impacting their success in school. Collaborate to create school-to-jobs tracks for students.”
“Support and strengthen existing innovative programs and look nationwide at programs that better prepare our students for the workforce of tomorrow.”
So, I have been trying to wrap my brain around what "school equity" seems to look like in FCPS. I have been engaging the equity council, district leaders, and school board for a while but in the last year, I have been wrestling with where is the breakdown in understanding for me on how equity is discussed/focused on in the district.
First, I feel the need to make sure that we all understand the differences between important terms that affect public schools like equity, diversity and inclusion, and institutional racism. The following definitions were found online:
Equity: "Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin, family background and income, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential (definition of fairness) and that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills (definition of inclusion)." Diversity and Inclusion:"Diversity in education tackles a wide range of identity categories. Diversity refers to the range of identities that exist in the schools (i.e,. race, class, gender, religion and sexual orientation) among all groups (teachers, administrators, and students)."
Institutional/Systematic Racism:"a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. Institutional racism is also racism by individuals or informal social groups governed by behavioral norms that support racist thinking and foment active racism." It is reflected in disparities regarding employment, discipline practices, academic achievement among marginalized groups, among other factors.
So, the breakdown for me occurred while listening to the district's report on equity within the district at the school board meetings for the last few months . They have highlighted activities/programs that involve mostly racially diverse students/families. THEY HAVE NOT included a lot of information about how they are increasing diversity and inclusion in staffing, breaking down the effects of institutional racism (that is inevitable because we are in America) such as achievement gaps and disproportionality (differences in the representation based on race) in special education and discipline practices.
This is the the main reason that OUR advocacy work that is needed!
We must ensure that we keep the focus on inequities in the schools to better educate ALL KIDS of FCPS! I have shared a few ideas of strategies that were used in the district in the past like filling the Recruitment and Retention of Minority Teacher position to increase diversity in the staffing, publishing an annual Equity Scorecard so the community is aware of inequities and can monitor the districts' progress, and adopting an Equity Policy to hold staff accountable for equity measures.