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Workshop Finds Routes to Rigorous Courses for ‘Missing Students’

In Superintendent Keith Marty’s Parkway, Mo., School District of 18,000 students outside St. Louis, an assessment by an outside evaluator did a deep dive into analytics of its high school student body and found 209 “missing students.”

The phrase refers to the reality that minority and low-income students are under-represented in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. At a Wednesday preconference workshop at the AASA national conference, attendees heard about four districts that had worked on improving equity for students who were shut out of the most demanding courses.

Marty’s work on equity issues spans several years and included curriculum audits and curriculum alignment, then new initiatives such as equity learning walks where diversity teams would visited schools to assess school culture and data. They also formed a multicultural education group to speak with parents and provided social justice training. All of these were tasks he was glad the district undertook.

However, when the district sought an outside firm with expertise and a record of measurable success, it took the district to a new level.

“Each building was doing something (on equity), but it wasn’t a systemwide perspective,” Marty said. At that point, he partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools, a nonprofit in Seattle, Wash., that uses data analytics and an action plan to bring results.

Changing perceptions is a difficult task and a topic that was stressed repeatedly. Former Superintendent Chris Belcher shared a story about the difficult work of changing perceptions when he led the Columbia, Mo., Public Schools. Two AP teachers who told him they were not sure these new students would be able to handle the academic challenge ended up apologizing to him a year later when the scores of students held steady.  He smiled with satisfaction. Belcher is now superintendent-in-residence for Equal Opportunity Schools.

“We all have an immunity to change,” said David Larson, Glenbard Township School District in Lombard, Ill. “Superintendents must constantly speak to the fact that putting kids in AP class is the right thing to do. Focus on the social justice aspect.” He also suggests that superintendents “nurture the narrative that the kid who is struggling in class is learning. Struggle is okay.”

He also advised superintendents to “demystify AP instructional shifts.” He cited a teacher who uses the 10-2 approach, 10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of discussion and then a brief opportunity to write things down. “AP teaching is exceptional teaching, why wouldn’t we want that for every kid?” he said.

Telling stories that show how Advanced Placement courses changed the trajectory of students’ lives also proved powerful, according to Larson. They invite former students to talk to students about the scholarship opportunities and the job satisfaction they have.

“Sometimes the gap between rigorous courses and engaging instruction is only 20 feet,” Belcher said, with classes across the hall from one another. Educators responded when he asked them, “What do you feel is the moral obligation you have to these kids?”


(By Liz Griffin, senior reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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