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Districts Share Efforts to Better Serve Students of Color

Presenters at a session titled “Equity and Diversity” on Thursday afternoon at the AASA conference asked an important question: How can administrators better engage minority student populations?

One way school districts from Minnesota and New Jersey have found is to survey students annually (or even more frequently) and then incorporate the feedback into improvement efforts. They shared what they learned during the hour-long session.

In East Grand Forks, Minn., School District, educators were challenged by an influx of Somali refugees to the area. Students who were transitioning to a new culture and new educational system were disengaged.

A look at survey data revealed the extent of the problem. According to Suraya Driscoll, director of teaching and learning, surveys showed the district ranked about average nationally, but when disaggregated by race and ethnicity, black students reported being significantly less satisfied with their school experience than other groups.

The findings upset teachers, many of whom had been successful teachers with local students. They wanted to improve their connection with refugees, but some experienced teachers were comfortable with their practices and reluctant to take advice.

Showing them the data did not prove motivating; teachers who saw their scores became upset and felt they were being labeled a bad teacher. So, the practice was stopped and now teachers no longer see scores. Administrators use the data to track progress.

In light of the survey results about the poor engagement of refugee students, the district appointed a bilingual liaison who was fluent in Somali and English. Almost immediately, engagement of students and trust between the district and the community improved, according to Driscoll. A year later the data reflected progress. The gap between white students and African-Americans had closed from a .44 differential to a .32 differential.

Superintendent Matthew Murphy faced a different problem in Ramsey, N.J., School District, located in a suburb of New York City.

A segment of students, often affluent, knew how knew how to excel in school and were accepted by elite colleges yet were less prepared to “do life.” He was also concerned about another segment, many of them students of color. Too many were well behind their peers in school and didn’t truly participate in the system.

He identifies problems with district surveys — students in December, parents in January and athletes at the conclusion of every sports season.

(Riley McCormick, a freshman at Vanderbilt University, is an intern for Conference Daily Online.)

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