Md. PARCC re­sults show achieve­ment gap per­sists

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Je­nese Jones Je­nese Jones is deputy di­rec­tor of Mary­landCAN; her email is je­nese.jones@mary­landcan.org.

Over the course of my ca­reer I have had the op­por­tu­nity to see our pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem from nearly every van­tage point. As a vet­eran teacher in two ma­jor cities, I have al­ways pri­or­i­tized mon­i­tor­ing my stu­dents’ out­comes through sev­eral lenses, in­clud­ing statewide as­sess­ments. Last month, as the new deputy di­rec­tor of Mary­landCAN, I was ex­cited to take my first crack at col­lect­ing and an­a­lyz­ing Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reer (PARCC) data for my home state.

Though only one piece of the com­plex puz­zle ed­u­ca­tors use to iden­tify stu­dent progress, these as­sess­ments are con­sid­er­ably im­por­tant in es­tab­lish­ing whether stu­dents are achiev­ing the skills mas­tery crit­i­cal to their ed­u­ca­tional suc­cess. As I sifted through the web­site that houses PARCC data, I felt my heart and stom­ach be­gin to sink.

In look­ing at state trends across grades 3-11 in math and English cour­ses, these data show that Mary­land is pro­vid­ing AfricanAmer­i­can chil­dren an ex­tremely in­equitable ed­u­ca­tion. De­spite many ed­u­ca­tors’ re­lent­less ef­forts, we led 38 per­cent of white sev­enth-grade stu­dents to meet or ex­ceed math stan­dards this year but only led 8 per­cent of African-Amer­i­can sev­enth-grade stu­dents to meet or ex­ceed the same stan­dards. And while we led 52 per­cent of white third-grade stu­dents to meet or ex­ceed English stan­dards, we only led 23 per­cent of their third-grade AfricanAmer­i­can coun­ter­parts to meet or ex­ceed Mary­land English stan­dards.

Re­view­ing, pro­cess­ing and truly un­der­stand­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of these data took me back to the over­whelm­ing emo­tions I felt when I learned that Fred­die Gray had been slain in Bal­ti­more. The truth is that I am not so dif­fer­ent from these stu­dents. I grew up in Mary­land in a sin­gle-par­ent home and re­ceived re­duced­price lunch well into my mid­dle school years. My sib­lings and I viewed school as our “ticket” to a brighter fu­ture. And be­cause of my mother’s re­lent­less­ness and the teach­ers and coaches who pushed us be­yond medi­ocrity, we proudly wear the ban­ner of first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege grad­u­ates.

There are cer­tainly those who find fault with PARCC data, stan­dard­ized as­sess­ments or the no­tion that schools alone can ad­dress the trauma African-Amer­i­can chil­dren in Mary­land ex­pe­ri­ence rou­tinely. But we can­not ad­dress a prob­lem that we do not see. Just as I am thank­ful for the emerg­ing poli­cies that re­quire po­lice of­fi­cers to wear body cam­eras — poli­cies that in­tro­duce trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in law en­force­ment — I am thank­ful for as­sess­ments such as PARCC that pro­vide us quan­ti­ta­tive data to in­di­cate how our schools ac­tu­ally per­form when it comes to meet­ing our chil­dren’s needs.

The truth is that these data val­i­date the need for poli­cies that pro­mote race eq­uity in ed­u­ca­tion. Achieve­ment gaps in PARCC data show that across grade lev­els our cur­rent sys­tem does not pro­vide all stu­dents and fam­i­lies the tools they need for growth and pros­per­ity. Par­ents should never have to worry that their AfricanAmer­i­can chil­dren will not come home safely at the end of the day. In the same way, when par­ents send their chil­dren to school, they should not have to worry that their chil­dren will leave the class­room ill-equipped to com­pete aca­dem­i­cally, suc­ceed pro­fes­sion­ally or thrive per­son­ally.

As an African-Amer­i­can woman, I am per­son­ally dev­as­tated to see that so few African-Amer­i­can chil­dren are re­ceiv­ing the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion I did. As deputy di­rec­tor of Mary­landCAN, I am now more com­mit­ted than ever to ad­vo­cat­ing for poli­cies that will em­power our hard­work­ing prin­ci­pals and teach­ers to lead our chil­dren to achieve at high lev­els.

Af­ter years of vi­o­lence and pain, we have be­gun a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion to en­sure our com­mu­ni­ties and our law en­force­ment sup­port and pro­tect our chil­dren. It is time to start a real con­ver­sa­tion in Mary­land about what we must do to sup­port and nur­ture our chil­dren. I chal­lenge any­one who cares about the fu­ture of chil­dren across this state to join Mary­landCAN in ad­vo­cat­ing for poli­cies that will end the racial in­jus­tices ap­par­ent in this year’s PARCC data and in our ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies.

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